“…here in California using Asian ingredients is part of what we do, part of a chef’s vocabulary. It’s not fusion, it’s Californian.”
— Chef Jason Fox, Commonwealth, San Francisco
Sometimes food is as much about a cook’s own history as it is about place. When I first read the ingredient list for Roasted Eggplant Salad, I couldn’t reconcile combining smoked paprika, cumin and soy sauce. Not that they’re incompatible, it just wasn’t in my taste vocabulary. Then I ran across Fox’s quote, and the flavors seemed less a cultural mash-up. I haven’t lived in California for a long while, but having grown up there, Fox had me reconsidering how these seemingly disparate flavors can be incorporated together.
We’d harvested some Fairy Tale and Orient Express eggplant earlier and, though I was worried that they might not be able to stand up to this preparation, the small size of them made for easy cutting. No matter the type of eggplant being used, do keep the skin on. It adds texture, as well as flashes of glossy aubergine to the final dish.
There’s something elegant about a recipe that’s written such that everything gets prepared along the way. Salt the eggplant pieces, set them aside, then, while the eggplant sits, prepare the garlic and marinade. Make sure to chop the garlic as instructed, not too finely; the larger-sized chunks allows the garlic to caramelize, becoming sweet rather than burnt. Toss the eggplant with the marinade, pan it, and slide everything into the oven; while the eggplant roasts, chop the herbs, and whisk together the lemon and soy.
Once it’s done, let the eggplant cool in the pan slightly before dressing. Now’s a good time to make a green salad and cut some bread, maybe set the table, uncork a bottle of wine. Garnish it with or without the cheese. Consider trying it without cheese, consider becoming vague-an. Taste and make a mental note to double the recipe the next time around, because tonight there won’t be leftovers.
This version differs only slightly from the original. I used mint instead of parsley; cilantro or a combination of herbs would also be nice. Once the weather cools down, goat cheese or feta adds some heft. As for the smoked paprika and soy sauce, they ground the dish, and it’s this umami element that reminds me of dashi, which also has a smoky quality. As it turns out, it’s not so much a cultural leap after all.
Roasted Eggplant Salad with Almonds & Mint
2 pounds eggplant (about 2 large)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 to 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cumin
4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup mint, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
– Heat the oven to 400°F. Cut the unpeeled eggplant into 1-inch pieces. Place eggplant in a colander, sprinkle lightly with salt and set aside while making the marinade.
– For marinade, whisk together the olive oil, cider vinegar, honey, smoked paprika, cumin, and garlic. Pat the eggplant dry, and toss with the marinade. Spread the eggplant on a large baking sheet, lined with parchment paper, and slide onto a rack positioned in the center of the oven. Roast at 400°F for 40 minutes, or until very tender and slightly browned. Stir every 15 minutes, and check after 30 minutes to make sure it isn’t burning. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.
– Whisk together the lemon juice and soy sauce. Return the eggplant to the bowl and toss with the lemon juice mixture. Stir in the mint, toasted almonds, and half of the scallions. Transfer salad to a serving bowl and sprinkle the reserved scallions on top. Serve warm or at room temperature. Supposedly serves 4.
Recipe adapted from thekitchn.com.