Alessio is from Sicily, currently living in Germany, is a multi-talented person. Along with working on his thesis in Physics, he is also a jewelry designer and caterer.
One most interesting thing that I find in Al is his approach to food and cooking, which you will realise with this post and the posts on his blog.
He has a very scientific way of looking at ingredients, their flavours, cooking techniques, and he uses these to come up with some very unusual and sometimes exotic combinations in his cooking.
In this post, he has used this same quality of his to create and present a vegetarian Indo-Sicilian fusion.
Few weeks ago Aparna asked me if I was willing to write a guest post for her, my answer was naturally yes! Apart from being this an honour to be featured on her blog My Diverse Kitchen , how could I say no to a friend?
Once we decided on all the details, I just had to think about a yummy vegetarian recipe to contribute. You might remember that last month Velveteers’ challenge pivoted around the Sicilian caponata ; Aparna loved it so much that I promised myself to show her more examples of the fine art of Sicilian veggies.
Last year in one of my visit back home, I bought some little booklets that collected various recipes from the Sicilian culinary tradition, of the different areas and cities of the island. I started reading the vegetables volume to find out that almost one third of its recipes feature eggplants; they are indeed one of the most beloved vegetable in Sicily.
I have already delved deep into the gastronomic history of this fruit in my Caponata post but let me just remind you all here how it was considered at first as a poisonous "apple" and then relegated as food suited only for Jews.
Thanks to the Arabic domination, Sicilians learned the best ways to cook eggplants and came to love it. Its texture, often still have a satisfying bite after cooking, made it a valid alternative to meat.
It is most probably because of this that we are used to cooking them breaded and fried like Schnitzel; sometimes we even get stuff them before the breading in Cordon Bleu style. When cut into steaks and grilled over charcoal, their creamy texture balances very well the sharpness of the vinegar and garlic with which they are seasoned.
Garlic is indeed one of the most beloved partners for eggplant dishes but when I went deeper into reading the booklet, I found that mint is also traditionally ofetn used to flavour the vegetable.
I am not a big fan of mint tout-court, but another Velveteers' challenge pushed me into experimenting with it and so I started to enjoy this fresh and aromatic herb in different ways.
The combination of eggplants with garlic speaks to me particularly well. Just think of it, the creamy texture of the eggplants along with the piquant or earthy flavour of garlic and the aromatic herbaceous freshness of mint leaves; a bit of the omnipresent extra virgin olive oil and you are set for a satisfying dish to add to your repertoire.
Another traditional way of preparing eggplants is sour-sweet (usually after having been fried). By now, you should have guessed that I will be using eggplants in my dish and naturally in sour-sweet style with garlic and mint; nothing is more Sicilian.
Another thing that I started recognising as quite typical in the Trinacrian cuisine is the use of chocolate in savoury dishes. This characteristic has been somehow inscribed in my DNA since I, for one, tend to use chocolate in an uncommon ways and mostly in savoury dishes for unusual sauces.
My booklet though did not contain any recipe featuring eggplant and chocolate most probably because they are usually associated with fresh and aromatic flavours. Culinary traditions in Naples area though, feature a rich dessert based on dark chocolate, candied fruits and fried eggplants.
A friend of mine once prepared such a dish for a potluck party that we had and we were quite pleased with the result. No wonders, can’t you imagine the smoky flavour of baked eggplants go with cocoa, probably with some tahini sauce and dried dates?
In my dish I wanted then to draw from this tradition and use chocolate but keeping the freshness of the sour-sweet in focus.
Since I was developing this recipe for an Indian based blog and mostly for a hungry Indian family, I had the chance to tap into the oriental pantry and so a new fusion dish was born! And here you have it.
Chappathi wrap of pickled eggplant Sicilian style with fresh mint and coriander leaves served with a maracuja (passionfruit), chocolate, fried onions dip sauce
(This recipe serves 2)
For the filling:
400g eggplant wedges
2 medium garlic cloves, sliced to medium thickness
8 sprigs of mint, leaves julienned
1/2 tsp red chilli flakes (or to taste)
1-2tbsp canola oil
40g onion (1 small onion), chopped
For the dip sauce:
2tbsp fresh maracuja pulp (1 big maracuja/ passionfruit)
1 medium long peppercorn, crushed
Tip of a knife of Soya lecithin
(optional, you may find it in the health department of your grocery store)
10g dark chocolate (I used the 66% Caraïbe from Valrhona )
3/4tsp onion oil
1/2 tsp sugar or to taste
2 sprigs of fresh mint
Fresh coriander leaves
Soak the eggplant wedges in salted cold water to let them eliminate their bitterness. After 30-40 min they should be ready to use; fish then them out of the water and pat them dry using paper towels, pressing them slightly.
In a small saucepan put roughly 1" of canola oil and warm it up, we will need this to fry the eggplants. To test for you oil temperature, plunge the end of a toothpick in it if it starts to bubble then the oil is ready to use.
Fry the eggplants in batches in the warm oil, not allowing its temperature will drop too much which will give you an oily end product. When the eggplants will have attained a nice brown on all sides, transfer them on paper towels to drain.
When all the eggplants have been fried, put a little extra virgin olive oil in a skillet and gently sauté the garlic slices, they shouldn't get any colour. Then add the eggplants to the skillet along with the chilli flakes, toss; sprinkle in the sugar and mix it in properly. If the mixture should look too dry to you, add a little water.
Pour now the vinegar over the eggplants and let it evaporate tossing gently the eggplants. Add the torn leaves of mint and season with salt. Let the sour-sweet eggplants dry almost completely, then transfer the mixture on a bowl to marinate for a few hours or overnight.
To prepare the sauce put the maracuja water in a small saucepan with the crushed long peppercorn and warm it up gently to infuse. Add the soya lecithin and whisk to melt it in. Do not let the maracuja water boil or it will reduce too much. Whisk in little at a time the onions oil so to create an emulsion. Taste the sauce, it should be quite spicy by now from the peppercorn; if so strain it using a fine mesh sieve.
Out of the fire but with the maracuja water still hot, whisk in the dark chocolate little at a time. If the mixture should cool down too much to melt the chocolate, place it briefly on the fire always whisking carefully to avoid scorching.
Taste the sauce and season with some sugar to tame its acidity.
If you haven't done it yet, strain the sauce/ganache through a fine mesh sieve in a ramekin or little bowl and let it come to room temperature. Cover it with some cling film and let it rest overnight at room temperature to thicken.
The next day, make or warm up your whole-wheat chappathis, divide the eggplants between the two chapattis sprinkling over the fresh coriander and mint leaves and roll. Serve the sauce slightly warmed up or at room temperature, in a separate bowl as a dip.
To warm up the sauce you could simply place its container in some warm water and gently stir till the sauce will reach the desired temperature.
The copyright for this post and photographs rests with Alessio Fangano of RecipeTaster and are reproduced here with his permission.