Eggs are for breakfast and plants are for grown ups. Not even the purple shade and shiny-smooth texture of an eggplant could fool little old me. Nope. I wasn’t having it. Since those long lost days of stubbornness (who am I kidding, I’m as stubborn as I ever was) and anti-vegetableism, I’ve grown to appreciate eggs, plants, and eggplants.
But because my taste for the purple fruit has matured only recently, my experience with it has been fairly limited.
A couple years back, my Grandma introduced me to A&W Seafood, which from that point forward became permanently known as “The Root Beer Place.”
For anyone who has ever been to California’s San Fernando Valley, you know that it is a desolate wasteland of cheesy nail salons, tiny sushi spots, and an endless supply of supermarkets. The Valley is the consumer’s paradise, and I can’t stand it. Aside from trips to Grandma’s heated townhouse pool, Brother Sushi, (I’ve been trying to think of more places in the Valley that I love for about five minutes now), and The Root Beer Place, this giant suburban tanning booth is where I’d least like to spend my time.
Whatever terrible things you might associate with The Valley, Deep Valley has…but worse. The Root Beer Place is located in the heart of “Deep Valley,” a term I’ve coined for parts of San Fernando that are even far from Grandma’s house. And she lives in The Valley. These areas are overwhelmed by strip malls and car dealerships, dispensaries and gas stations. These are not places you ever want to find yourself. Unless – and this is a BIG unless – you are in pursuit of the best damn Chinese food you’ve ever had. Weird, right? For a place so overpowered by retired Jewish grandparents and wealthy teenagers, you’d be surprised to know that good Chinese food was even a thing in The Valley, no less the Deep Valley.
One day, Grandma set up a double date for us, her best friend Bobby, and her best friend Bobby’s granddaughter, Emily. As Emily and I sat in the backseat of Grandma’s bright red Lexus, texting incessantly in true high school fashion, we chatted about Kanye West and The Suite Life of Zach & Cody for what seemed like hours, until finally, we pulled into the lot of A&W Seafood.
The dining room was giant, with pale salmon colored tablecloths that matched the napkins and curtains. There were large fish tanks filled with giant crabs I would later consume and too many Nemos to keep track of. Only one other party was dining while we enjoyed our repast: a large Asian family celebrating some sort of birthday or something. To this day, a single large celebrating Asian family is our only company. We sat down, and Emily and I emptied countless sugar packets into our already caffeinated tea. (I wouldn’t be sleeping much that night). Grandma and Bobby told us that we could each choose one item to order. Perhaps it was the caffeine that overcame me, or maybe the Deep Valley air had me lightheaded, but I ordered the House Eggplant. Thank God for whatever it was that made me temporarily lose my hold on reality, because the House Eggplant was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Sautéed to perfection with the ideal combination of spicy, sweet, tang, and goop, our table gobbled this stuff up till there was only sauce left (in which we soaked our rice obviously). This was the kind of stuff that literally made me stop texting under the table…and I had some important stuff to text, damnit!
For someone who hated the mere thought of Eggplant, it’s surprising that I’ve been willing to make the great Exodus into Deep Valley just to spend some time with it – and Grandma – time and time again.
This summer I discovered that this wasn’t the only way I could enjoy the savory relish of House Eggplant. As Matt and I meandered through Whole Foods, looking for sustenance to accompany our Two Buck Chuck at the Hollywood Bowl, we stumbled upon what looked just like House Eggplant straight out of Deep Valley.
After pouring sugar packets in our cheap wine (I kid), we ignored our texts and ate the eggplant like the starving college students we aren’t. Matt was lucky enough to get that coveted “Deep Valley taste” without the lengthy trek, and from that point forward, he was hooked. But because Boston doesn’t have a Valley of it’s own (thank God) nor is Whole Foods in our budget (if only), this was a one-time treat.
Back in September, Matt and I walked through a farmer’s market after deciding to make Trader Joes’ Orange Chicken for dinner. Through the piles of pineapples and bushels of broccoli, a heaping pile of shiny purple Eggplants called out to me as the wind softly whispered “you’re not in Deep Valley anymore.” Stubborn me decided not to listen, and I bought two sizable eggplants with every intention of recreating my favorite dish at Matt’s apartment that night. With resources limited to olive oil and a quirky spice rack accompanied by a nonexistent knowledge of Asian cooking, I chopped up the eggplant and threw the pieces in a pot with a hodgepodge of seasonings. Needless to say, my edition of House Eggplant was unpalatable at best. We couldn’t even stomach soaking the rice in my sorry excuse for sauce.
A month or two later, I stumbled upon a recipe that looked delicious, but required the use of the feared ingredient. The photo, the ingredients…I couldn’t resist. It was my one-year anniversary with Matt, and I must have gotten a whiff of that illusive Deep Valley air, because I decided to try my hand at Roasted Eggplant Dip on the one night when stomachaches aren’t exactly welcome. As we slow danced to Blues in the kitchen, the eggplant slow cooked in the oven. An hour later, our nervous hands dipped the homemade crostinis in the goop that slightly resembled the photo that had me drooling days earlier. Much to our surprise, it was perfect. It was creamy and rich, smooth and flavorful.
This is the perfect appetizer for any family gathering, party, or even anniversary! Paired well with crostinis or toasted pita, this recipe is a great way to avoid the same old onion dip and hummus pairings you’re so used to at holiday parties. Long live eggplant!
· 3 medium sized eggplants, halved
· Approx. 6 cloves garlic
· A few sprigs fresh thyme
· ¼ cup Extra-Virgin olive oil
· Kosher salt
· Freshly ground pepper
· 3 tablespoons minced herbs (combination of fresh basil & fresh parsley)
· 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Yields 3 Cups
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place eggplants, cut side up, on a cookie sheet. Using a large knife, form 1-inch slits in the flesh, spaced evenly. Then, slice your garlic into thin slivers and peel the little thyme leaves off their stems.
Stuff each slit with a few garlic slices and some thyme and then drizzle each eggplant half with olive oil.
Sprinkle with Kosher salt and bake for 1 hour, or until the eggplants are nice and tender.
After letting them cool, use a spoon to scrape the soft flesh into a food processor or blender, leaving the skins behind. Too bad, the purple’s the coolest part!
Toss in the minced herbs, another two tablespoons of olive oil, and the lemon juice.
Puree until the texture is smooth and then pulse the food processer while incorporating the salt and ground pepper.