Most times I find myself tinkering with recipes trying to fine tune them to my tastes or to the materials I have at hand but then every once in a while I stumble upon something that must have been written by my long lost twin. This is one of my favorite “pickles,” taking a woody, bland, and at times even bitter veggie and transforming it into a smoky, creamy, tangy, garlicky delight. In fact, it’s so good that it’s turned my anti-aubergine friends into flag waving eggplant lovers. For reals. This recipe comes from Georgeanne Brennan’s The Glass Pantry, a well written and delicious book on preserving that is out of print. In fact, my current hardcover copy that I was able to snag used several years ago after my paperback one went to that bookshelf in the sky has become tattered and stained from continued perusing. Most of the recipes are French in style with a nice balance of flavors that keep you coming back for more. This recipe is particularly versatile because after popping the ingredients into sterile jars you just park them in the refrigerator to enjoy over the next 6 months. Now, I will admit up front that while I love this recipe, I’m a terrible person and have adulterated it with my own ratio changes cuz I can’t help myself and recognizing that I have a problem is the first step, right? So while my version is an herby-er and less salty form, the ingredients haven’t morphed into a mirin, fish sauced brine which if you know me means a lot 🙂 While these taste delicious as antipasto I love them in a sandwich with some creamy brie or with grilled chicken and sun-dried tomato on a crusty baguette. [drool.]
Tips, tips, tips:
1) Is there a secret to picking creamy, non-bitter eggplant? Bitterness can increase over time with eggplant as older eggplant have more seeds which are responsible for that bitter flavor so it’s best to choose eggplant that has a smooth skin without wrinkles that has soft and springy flesh like a balloon but isn’t spongy. If you press lightly against the skin it should spring back. If an indentation is present pass it by cuz it’s an old, overripe, bitter purple veggie. Be careful of keeping them too long in the refrigerator as they are prone to chill injury just like tomatoes. The cell walls break can down from the cold creating a mealy, woody texture over time.
2) An eggplant is an eggplant is an eggplant, right? I prefer Asian varieties like Chinese or Japanese eggplant not just cuz I’m Asian but because they have thinner skins and fewer seeds which means more creamy flesh for me to gobble. The seeds are also responsible for the bitter taste in eggplant so less seeds is good in my book.
5 Chinese eggplants or 4 small globe eggplants, cut in half crosswise then sliced lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick by 6 inch long slices
8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced paper thin lengthwise
20 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
2/3 c + 2/3 c + extra for brushing eggplant extra virgin olive oil
1/3 c + 1/3 c balsamic vinegar
Brush olive oil on cut eggplant slices. Grill for 20-30 seconds per side on a hot grill (over direct flame if using a BBQ grill or over med-hi heat if using a stovetop grill). You can also broil them till golden ~ 30 seconds per side. Set aside and cool for easier handling ~ 10 minutes.
In two 0.75 liter glass canning jars (I like these by Bormioli because they’re pretty and hold up to pressurized canning techniques) lay out a single layer of eggplant. Sprinkle with a small pinch of salt and pepper. Place 3-4 slivers of garlic and 1 small sprig of thyme on top of eggplant. Repeat with each layer of eggplant till you reach the fill line ~ 1 inch from the opening. I like to lay the eggplant layers at 90 degree angles to each other just to create a tighter mesh for the vinegar and oil to trickle through hopefully keeping some of the flavor in the middle rather than vinegar pooling at the bottom and the oil floating to the top but I may simply be entertaining myself. Add 2/3 c olive oil and 1/3 c balsamic vinegar to each jar. Seal and refrigerate. Flip jar upside-down every other day to mix layers as the balsamic vinegar will tend to settle to the bottom. The eggplant will be marinated with the flavors after 1 week but will also continue to gain flavor over time. Keeps for 6 months in the refrigerator.