Everyone has their fallback technique in the kitchen. Mine is roasting, especially vegetables. I love how the extreme heat coaxes out the sugars and creates a whole new flavor profile for squash, tomatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus... You name it; I roast it.
But with the current heat wave in San Diego, turning on the oven is a total turn off. So, what was I to do with these beautiful Choryoku and Gretel eggplants grown by Weiser Family Farms that I had picked up at Specialty Produce? Choryokus are a light green reminiscent of a Granny Smith apple, in a long body with sweet, white flesh. The Gretels are the white sister of a Hansel variety. They have a spongy flesh that makes them perfect for absorbing
Earlier in the week I had made a spice rub from a large finger of Buddha's Hand, some red toch garlic--also from Specialty Produce--sea salt, and thyme from my garden.
The Buddha's Hand is a marvelous citron that has all the flavor of lemon zest with none of the bitterness or the juice, for that matter. The red toch garlic is a soft neck variety with a lot of moisture.
It's got a powerful flavor without being too spicy. The blend hadn't completely dried yet but that would be fine if I created a vinaigrette with it. I noodled around online and was inspired by a recipe I found on Epicurious that steamed and then marinated eggplant to serve as an appetizer. Perfect!
I trimmed and sliced the slender green and white eggplants in half lengthwise, then put them in a steamer, skin side down and sprinkled them with a little kosher salt. While they steamed for about 10 minutes, I quickly whisked together a couple of tablespoons of the rub with aged sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. By then, the eggplant were tender. I let them drain for a couple of minutes, then arranged them in a dish and spooned the vinaigrette over them. There they sat at room temperature for the next two hours and I periodically basted them with the vinaigrette they were soaking in.
At the end of the two hours, without breaking a sweat, I had a fragrant dish, each bite packed with a sensational combination of the vinegar, garlic, and thyme. It was salty and herbaceous, oily and acidic. The eggplant's texture was soft and creamy from the steaming. Pair this dish with a bowl of briny olives, oil marinated roasted red peppers, Manchego cheese, a crusty loaf of bread, and refreshing glass of Cava or Proseco and you've got a perfect light summer meal.
Thyme-Infused Steamed, Marinated Eggplant
Adapted from Epicurious
Serves 4 as an appetizer
4 long eggplants, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons aged sherry vinegar
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (look for Red Toch variety but any will work)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Zest of one finger of Buddha's Hand (or one conventional lemon)
2 tablespoons aged sherry vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Fresh thyme leaves for garnish
Place the eggplant skin side down in a steamer basket. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt. Fill the pot with one inch of cold water, add two tablespoons of the sherry vinegar, then cover with the steamer tray and lid. Turn the heat to medium high and steam the eggplant for about 10 minutes, until soft. Remove the steamer tray and let the eggplant drain for five minutes.
In a small food processor, blend the first four ingredients for the marinade. You can do this days ahead of time and spread the mixture on a tray to air dry. It makes a terrific rub for poultry, lamb, and vegetables--or, mixed with olive oil, a lovely dip for bread. Here you use a couple of tablespoons and whisk in the sherry vinegar and then the olive oil.
Arrange the warm eggplant on a small platter with sides and spoon the marinade over each half. Let sit on the counter for two hours, basting periodically. When you're ready to serve it, add a grind of black pepper and a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves.