battle 6–day 4–eggplant

After my extraordinary success with eggplant last Friday, I was technically done with eggplant, but I had been promising myself all week that if all else failed I could fry it up right Saturday night, and even though all else didn’t fail…I kind of missed my deep fryer (oh Fry Daddy, you sexy beast, you), so we invited Naysayer Tom and Super Smart Supporter Melissa B. over and had ourselves another fried food night.

Fried food night is always a bit scattershot (I think having had two fried food nights that were both scattershot makes it pattern, thus “always”). Saturday night’s menu included pan-fried chicken tenders for buffalo chicken tacos, beer battered deep-fried zucchini (yum yum yum—my favorite), and beer battered deep-fried eggplant.

I think I did everything I was supposed to with the eggplant. I peeled it, salted it, sliced it crossways, let it sit for a while (I don’t know how long, a while), cut it up into French fry-looking things, dunked those in my beer batter, and tossed them in the fryer (oh, my sweet, sweet fryer). I likewise cut up, battered and tossed in the zucchini. The result of this process was a plate of fried fritter goodness—the eggplant recognizable only by their long strips and the zucchini by their silver dollar-sized rounds—that tasted exactly the same. I wasn’t sure if it was me, so I passed the plate around and everyone else confirmed, yep, exactly the same. Delicious beer battered fried goodness. So all this time I’ve been love, love, loving zucchini I was actually in love with beer batter. It’s possible some of you pointed this out in your comments, but I might have been in a fried food coma and neglected to notice this. Or care.

zucca.jpg

So today I went to lunch at Zucca, an Italian-pizza-restaurant-bar-type-place (they’re confused), on the Decatur square (my favorite place in the world). I’ve found myself actually reading menus these days, searching for new items I can all of a sudden eat because I’ve added all these new foods to my diet, and as I searched today, it was like a whole new world had opened to me and today was my lucky fucking day, because guess what they had on the menu at Zucca…a fried zucchini and eggplant appetizer. Seriously. I’m not even joking. I wouldn’t joke about that. So I thought, maybe I’m hungrier than that, maybe I want an app and a slice of the day, so I said, Hey Ms. Server Lady, what’s your slice of the day?, and she was like, Hey weirdly wild-eyed lady at my table, today’s slice of the day is a white pie with red peppers, zucchini and eggplant. Now, I bet you’re all thinking the same thing I was thinking… that’s right, today would be a great day for a new pair of shoes. So, I ordered the zucchini and eggplant app and the slice of the day, and I ate it all. Their fried food wasn’t as good as mine because it wasn’t battered in beer, but it was still pretty good and…they still both tasted exactly the same. But the pizza—on which were three of my new vegetables, none of which were fried—was great.

Red peppers, still in. Zucchini, still in. Eggplant, still in.


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battle 6–day 3–eggplant

Eggplant, take three. If I wasn’t the winning kind, eggplant might have beaten me. Fortunately for me, I’m the winning kind. I win shit.

After two neither successful nor unsuccessful attempts to take down eggplant—with mousaka on Tuesday and eggplant parm on Wednesday—I was back at it last night with not one, not two, but three different eggplant dishes.

melandy eggplant

Dish 1: Baba Ghanoush

I’ve heard of baba ghanoush before, but I think I thought it was a character in a Disney movie. Apparently it’s food. It was described to me as similar to hummus but made with smoked eggplant instead of tahini. I don’t know what tahini is, so that didn’t mean much to me, but I tried it and it was fine. I love hummus, I have a serious addiction to hummus, so I’m not sure I would choose baba ghanoush over hummus ever (I definitely wouldn’t, no way), but it was fine.

As a neither-here-nor-there side note, I only started liking hummus about a year ago….around the time I started liking tomatoes actually (huh…note to self: look into whether I was struck by lightning or abducted by aliens a year ago), but before that I was rabidly anti-hummus. I don’t know why I had such a hate on for hummus, it just seemed like a good thing to do, mostly because it’s made of peas. Chick peas. And I found chick peas really offensive. Garbanzo beans, too. Either way. Super offensive. This really perplexed Lauren, who loves hummus (and rightly so, really, because it’s fucking awesome), and she gave me the hardest time about it, forever, for years. And I was like, Lauren, come on, it’s made from chick peas. I should also note that I’d never actually eaten a chick pea in my life, but I was totally positive I wouldn’t like them. Chick. Peas. Dis-goddamn-gusting. So Lauren made me a bumper sticker that said, “Honk if you love chick peas!,” which I then drew a big red circle around with an X over it and hung it on my wall at work lest anyone be confused about how I felt about chick peas. Chick peas. Gross. Then one day a year or so ago I woke up and someone offered me some hummus and the aliens in my body decided the right thing to do was eat it and like it and I’ve been eating it, oh, almost every day since.

Hummus, in. Baba ghanoush…in, if hummus isn’t available. But why wouldn’t hummus be available? Seriously. What are you doing with my hummus? Give it back to me, give it…

Dishes 2 and 3: Eggplant Manicotti, Grilled Eggplant

So naysayers were all over Facebook, the blog and e-mail this week, talking about how bitter and awful eggplant is, how hard it is to cook with, how it’s everyone’s least favorite, etc, etc, etc. Some friends did offer some really yummy sounding recipes with lots of fried, cheesy goodness to mask eggplant’s taste, but these A) seemed defeat the purpose of tasting and enjoying the vegetable and B) were way too hard to cook. However, one recipe popped up that sounded both cheesy and easy to cook–eggplant manicotti. Yes, I’ll take it.

salting eggplant

It turns out cooking with eggplant is not that difficult, it just takes some time. Time, of course, is the one thing I don’t care to spare when I’m cooking (hot and fast, hot and fast), so eggplant may not be the best vegetable for me to cook, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still eat it and like it. We sliced and salted the eggplant and then let it sit for a while before working with it; this cuts down on the bitter taste everyone yammered on about all week. Hours and hours and hours later (or a few minutes), when the salt had worked its magic, we decorated some eggplant for the grill (with balsamic vinegar? Oil? Some green herb-ish stuff for sure…we should have talked about what all was happening over there, but I was busy with cheese for the manicotti, and frankly, it was cheese, so…..), and I rolled ricotta cheese into long strips of eggplant, which we then baked with sauce and more cheese.

ricotta

manicotti

Once all the eggplant was grilled and baked and on the table we chowed down. Eggplant manicotti…not altogether super totally different from regular manicotti. I wouldn’t go so far as to try to trick you into believing it’s the same, like a vegetarian would, but neither would I turn my nose up at it. But the grilled eggplant interested me most because I felt like it was my best opportunity this week to actually taste it, get a feel for the texture, understand what it is that people are talking about when they say they love it or hate it, and I liked it. I didn’t love it or hate it, but I liked it well enough to win it. Fucking finally, yo.


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battle 6–day 2–eggplant

Eggplant, take two.

I took another stab at eggplant last night with eggplant parmesan at our favorite Italian restaurant, Bambinelli’s. It’s a family-owned place with tacky décor and a gross number of photos of the Bambinellis and their kids and famous Italians and the Sopranos, which gives me the impression they take being Italian seriously, so I felt good entrusting them with contributing this fundamental Italian dish to the project. But just in case, I ordered another combo meal of sausage, chicken and eggplant parmesan with shells and cheese. It was an absurd, excessive amount of food, but after the portabella burger debacle, I can’t take any chances. I don’t want to go hungry.

bambinelli's

While we were waiting for the food to arrive Naysayer Jon warned me that eggplant is another one of those vegetables that vegetarians like to trick you into believing tastes like meat, but really, it tastes like eggplant. Then I started to worry. Because of the portabella burger debacle. I had at least covered my bases so I wouldn’t starve, but I still have to win, and disliking a vegetable or not being able to add it to my diet permanently means I don’t win. I fretted.

Miss Server Lady brought out my combo meal (which they call the DaVinci Code or some shit) and I poked around my plate again, trying to identify what was what. (I swear, I did actually eat before this project, but the food really was all beige…and I am a seriously good beige food connoisseur.) Once I had established what I was pretty sure was eggplant, I closed my eyes, held my nose, and…

So is it just me or does eggplant have no taste? Or texture. Or anything. I couldn’t really say for sure that the blob on my plate covered in sauce and cheese was anything more than a vehicle for sauce and cheese.

I’m really torn on how to call it. Is this just what you do with eggplant? Cover it, stuff it, fry it until you can’t taste it? I mean, I didn’t vomit on myself so I would call that a relative success, but I still don’t think I would ever say, oh yeah, eggplant, mmmmm, my favorite! I’m not calling it yet. I won’t be home tomorrow night so I’ll try again Friday with grilled home-growns. Friday, take three. And Saturday I’m frying them bitches.


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battle 6–day 1–eggplant

Here’s the sum total of what I know about eggplant: it’s purple. I learned that when I first started this project and did a Google image search of all the veggies I might have to eat. The only other thing I know (and this is really more of an opinion than actual knowledge) is that it has a weird fucking name. Egg. Plant. What about it exactly is so egg-y? I had a little conversation with Wikipedia about this, but he/she didn’t really know why it’s called that. But then, THEN, Wikipedia told me this, and I’m going to semi-quote Wikipedia on this because Wikipedia is such a reliable source: The eggplant is a plant that bears a fruit of the same name, which is commonly used as a vegetable in cooking. WTF, Wikipedia?

Considering eggplant’s indecision about whether it wants to be a fruit or a vegetable reminded me that Supporter Elwood told me a while ago that the difference between fruits and vegetables is totally murky. Here’s what I learned from another little chat with Wikipedia:

  • The term fruit has different meanings depending on context, and the term is not synonymous in food preparation and biology. Fruits are the means by which flowering plants disseminate seeds, and the presence of seeds indicates that a structure is most likely a fruit, though not all seeds come from fruits. (I love how the people who write on Wikipedia vary from writing in a pedantic-like language that resembles Old English to completely disregarding punctuation. Get it together, Wikipedia.)
  • A vegetable is an edible plant or part of a plant other than a sweet fruit or seed. However, the word is not scientific, and its meaning is largely based on culinary and cultural tradition. Therefore, the application of the word is somewhat arbitrary and subjective. For example, some people consider mushrooms to be vegetables, while others consider them a separate food category. (Like what other food category, Wikipedia?)

fruit or veg

Wikipedia also says legumes, including peas and beans, are fruit, so I’m seriously considering whether that means I can cut out bean week (holy please!!). Ooh, beets are fruit, too! Wikipedia is my new best friend. Wait, beets are also vegetables. Wikipedia and I just broke up.

Regardless of whether eggplant is a fruit or a vegetable, it’s still on the list for this week and there’s nothing I can do about it now but eat it. My plans for eggplant week include eggplant parmesan at our favorite Italian restaurant; grilled eggplant with friends; and fried eggplant, which My New Favorite Person Mindy told me was the best way to eat eggplant, and you know I can’t resist the deep fryer, so that’s going right to the top of the list. Friends are also now suggesting on e-mail some other complicated sounding recipes, but I think they all forgot I don’t know how to cook.

I officially started eggplant week yesterday because we went out of town for the holiday weekend and only got back late Monday night; then I didn’t have time, energy or inclination to shop for groceries after a big party weekend, so eggplant week also started with dinner out. David gets all the credit for dinner last night because I’m so super dead serious when I say the only thing I know about eggplant is that it’s purple (and I might not even be 100 percent right about that, according to my fair-weather friend, Wikipedia). I have no idea what dishes people make with it, where to go to find it on a menu, if it’s a main or a side, nothing. No idea. So David had his most genius moment of the whole project and suggested that we go for Greek so I could have mousaka, which is apparently a staple on Greek menus and one of the main things in the world that has eggplant in it. Of course I’ve never heard of it.

We checked the menu for Athens Pizza House and found the perfect meal for me: a mousaka and pastitsio combo meal. I still had no idea what either of these dishes looked like, but the description of them—layers of eggplant, potatoes and ground beef with a creamy béchamel sauce and hollow pasta mixed with ground beef and topped with a creamy béchamel sauce—guaranteed that I would be able to try this week’s veg but still have a meat-and-potatoes out in case the eggplant made me vomit on myself.

So Mister Server Guy brought out my combo meal and both the mousaka and the pastitsio looked exactly the same. A cursory visit to Google images this morning confirmed that’s not totally out of the ordinary, but I’m not altogether certain the kitchen didn’t give me two pieces of mousaka or two pieces of pastitsio. Also, I don’t know what Athens Pizza House thinks “creamy” means, but there was nothing creamy about the two blobs of gelatin-like casserole-ish beige foods on my plate. On the up side, they were beige, and we know how I feel about beige food. I poked around looking for the eggplant, and David said, it’s right there, and pointed to nothing. I said, where? And he said, there! And pointed to nothing again. So, I just ate them both without having any idea which one supposedly had eggplant in it. They tasted like beige food.

my mousaka didn't look anything like this

So because I don’t even know if I ate eggplant last night, much less whether I liked or disliked it, I think it doesn’t count. I’m calling this one a total foul, off sides, out of bounds, violation of Geneva Conventions Article 9002. Tonight, take two.


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