Thursday, July 18, 2013

Eggplant-Tomato Salad on Mint Rice with Warmed Mozzarella


If you're a loving cook (and most cooks are), you make your loved ones' favorite foods.  In fact, you know that what we love -- or hate-- in some ways defines us.  For instance, I am a chocolate fiend and, if I'm smart, when I'm trying to slim down, I don't even keep it in the house.  I buy a tiny, perfect piece at the grocery check out (50 calories or so) and I eat JUST THAT ONE.

If I want chocolate cake, I make one for a friend's birthday and have a piece.  Perfectly happily.  This one was Roberta's.
Dave's a baseball nut.  My mother-in-law loves peppermint.  My sister-in-law hates green vegetables.  Roberta has a  life-long love affair with the organ--even has one in her house.  Your favorite color is ____.   My boss "never met an egg she didn't like."  Tony's passion is national parks and scotch; I don't know in what order.  Artist friend Dan is nutty about bluegrass and my friend Bud waited long years for his Bosendorfer piano.  My sister Helen adores green beans.  Sue loves the beach and anything lemon.  We know who people are (partly) because of these things. 

This comes up at my Weight Watcher's meetings.  People complain and cry (an exaggeration...but nearly) about not being able to have ice cream, margaritas, chips, chocolate, butter, etc.  My comment is occasionally, "You'd better have what you love or you won't stay on the program, won't lose weight....because you won't be YOU."  It's actually a pretty well-known fact in WW circles, but it usually needs repeating on a weekly basis.  And no one else ever says WHY you shouldn't deprive yourself, except that it results in binges. 

These little Thai eggplants are often available at Saint Paul farmer's markets.  If you have small, young eggplant of any kind you probably don't need to peel them--just wash, trim, and dice.   A little trial and error might be called for.  I did, however, use the regular large, purple eggplant and needed to peel it.  Check out the various kinds of eggplant.

So, in addition to baseball, Dave is crazy about eggplant  Any way. When eggplant is perfect--fresh with tender, deep purple skin-- I'm making it as often as I can.  The other night I wanted a salad that I could have for a meal (that Weight Watcher thing) and he could have as a side for his steak sandwich with horseradish sauce while we watched "The Newsroom", my new TV crush.   I had fresh mozzerella leftover from caprese,  jasmine rice, eggplant, fresh tomatoes, and... this is what transpired, a fusion sort of meal I think you will love.  If you love eggplant, that is.

Sometimes in this blog, I only have to say, "Fried cheese," though in this case I tempered it with the adjective, "warm." Try this:



eggplant-tomato salad on mint rice with warm mozzerella
This warm and/or cool salad begins with sautéed eggplant, onions, and tomatoes--seasoned with garlic and lemon rind-- that are then spooned into the middle of a ring of rice that has been stirred together with chopped fresh mint, parsley, and spinach. (Good use for leftover take-out rice.) Half-moons of fresh mozzerella are quickly warmed in oil with a bit of crushed red pepper and are then scattered on top of the ring of rice.  Fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil are drizzled at the last second for an instant vinaigrette.  If you have both run-of-the-mill (cooking) and salad (or garnish) extra virgin olive oil, use the better (salad or garnish) oil for the end of the salad vinaigrette.                                                   

Makes  6 servings         Read through recipe before making.
  •  7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups (approximately) eggplant, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind 
  • 2 cups cooked jasmine (or other) rice at cold or at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup each chopped fresh parsley and mint
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, shredded
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella (1/2 pound), sliced in half-inch rounds and cut again into 1/2 moons, cold
  • Juice of one lemon (2-3 tablespoons)

1.  In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil  over medium heat for 30 seconds with a pinch of crushed red pepper.  Add eggplant and onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper; cook about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until quite softened and tender.  Add tomato and garlic, let cook another 2 minutes or so, and remove from heat. Stir in lemon rind.  Taste and adjust for seasonings.
2.  Meanwhile, in a large shallow bowl or on a large platter, using your hands, mix together the rice, herbs, and spinach.  Sprinkle with just a bit of salt and pepper and mix again.  Pushing the the rice mixture out from the center, form a ring to allow room for the eggplant mixture in the middle.  Spoon eggplant mixture into the open space, mounding as needed.
 

3.  Wipe out skillet with towels, add 2 more tablespoons olive oil and heat over medium flame.  All attention as you begin this step:  Leaving room between each piece, place the mozzarella slices in the skillet, sprinkle with crushed red pepper, and heat briefly until warm and just beginning to ooze.  Quickly turn, using tongs or spatula, and repeat on the other side.  Remove from heat and remove the cheese from the skillet and onto the rice, spreading evenly around the ring. Waste no time or you'll have a skillet full of melted cheese.
4.  Drizzle entire salad with lemon juice and then with remaining 3 tablespoons (best quality, if you have it) extra virgin olive oil.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.   Serve at room temperature or cold.  Store leftovers well-covered for up to one day.   Keeps well, according to Dave, who ate all of the rest of it for lunch.


COOK'S NOTES:
* If you prefer, and it's too warm, grill the eggplant in slices, cut it up afterward, and stir in fresh chopped tomatoes with just a tablespoon or so of minced onion--perhaps scallions--along with only half the garlic.  Continue with rest of recipe. I'm a good guesser and guess it'd work.  Let me know if you try it.
*You can certainly make this recipe with different vegetables (bell peppers? zucchini? yellow squash?) and/or different herbs (basil? thyme?oregano?)

Sing a new song; make a new salad,
Alyce

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