Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A rose by any other name...

It is always a combination of delight and frustration for me when somebody I cook for regularly tries a dish they have steadfastly refused at home either in a restaurant or at somebody else's house, then proclaims it delicious, a new favorite.

I'll never forget the amused reaction my 8 year old son's friend's mother had when I pressed her for the recipe of the "Mom you've got to find out how she makes it" chicken she'd fed him at their house the night before. She played me along for a bit, telling me it was a big family secret - if she shared it I had to promise never to reveal she'd betrayed her vow of silence.

The big secret? A Tyson brand whole roasted chicken that she'd chopped into serving pieces and warmed through.

Up side? At least I could duplicate that, no worries.

I have two family members who are downright dedicated non-eggplant eaters. I've got a truly delicious caponata recipe they both liked - until they found out they were eating eggplant. They still liked the taste but tend to avoid eating it or encouraging me to make any when they remember it has eggplant as a major component. However, as long as they are properly distracted/amnestic about the ingredients - or nearly starving - they'll dig right in and admit it is flat out GOOD.

And it was just that combination - unknown ingredients plus a ravenous appetite- that prompted my sweet husband to slather some of the dip provided in the restaurant at our hotel in Arizona on grilled flatbread while we waited for the rest of our lunch to arrive last Wednesday.

We'd left a seasonably cold and drizzly Austin earlier that day, stressed over the potential of not finding a parking space and/or missing our flight, survived the Southwest Airlines cattle call seating process, then bounced and jostled our way through turbulent skies to the airport in Phoenix. We were staying in Scottsdale, a good 40 minutes away, and by the time we dropped bags off in our room it was well past lunchtime and we were STARVING.

We played our version of the maddening "Where do you want to eat?", "I don't know - where do YOU want to eat?" game in the elevator and pretty much stumbled over to the first restaurant we saw. We gratefully accepted water, ordered, and tried to get our bearings.

I'd heard the waiter announce "roasted eggplant" as he placed the dip on our table, but my husband was busy looking out at the gardens and golf course just beyond the windows. He dipped, he bit, he pronounced. "This is great" he enthused as he reached for more.

"This is most likely a version of Baba Ghanoush" I shared. "Roasted eggplant with lemon and garlic and I can't remember what else.". I couldn't remember because I'd never thought to try this out on my "no eggplant parmesean/caponata for me ever!" cast of regulars at the dinner table.

But that is all changed now. Thanks to the great folks at Nellie Cashman's Monday Club Cafe at Westin's Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, I have a recent eggplant convert on my hands. A change in fortune which dovetails neatly with a near unanimous family decision to eat less animal protein and more vegetables. Or at least to try.

I figure the rich and filling Baba Ghanoush, served with warmed pita bread, will be a great supplement to a large dinner salad with just a sprinkling of leftover grilled chicken on top. Since this is my first try at "homemade", I'll wing it with a half-batch for starters so as not to be left with a bowl of deliciously high calorie spread that only I find irresistible. The point of this is to eat less overall, not more.
I'll be back later with a report on how this tastes. Meanwhile, here's the recipe:

Two one pound eggplants cut in half lengthwise
one quarter cup olive oil
one quarter cup tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, chopped
Pita bread wedges

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a well oiled rimmed baking sheet place eggplant halves, cut side down, and roast until very soft, about 45 minutes.

Cool slightly, then using a spoon scoop out pulp into a strainer set over a bowl. Let drain for 30 minutes.

Transfer pulp to food processor. Add oil, juice and garlic; process until almost smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small bowl and serve at room temperature with pita wedges.

Notes: Various other recipes advised letting the mixture sit for a few hours in the refrigerator before serving for the flavors to fully develop and blend. I plan on doing just that. I'm also going to try drizzling with olive oil and then warming the pita bread in my panini maker and see how we like that. So far? Panini = delicious.

I'm going to post now and get dinner on the table. If this turns out to be a spectacular failure I'll update with a warning. Otherwise, let the eggplant rumpus begin!

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