Over the last few days a massive to-do has been made by the media about Black Friday. Traditionally we don’t do Black Friday here in Canada – December 26 is our designated day to work ourselves into shopping hysterics – but this year lots of Canadian retailers seem to be jumping on the bandwagon and offering crazy bargains to discourage people from taking off to the States by the busload to spend their money there. While I’m definitely not averse to the odd shopping expedition – although interestingly, moving to a more rural area and living around less commerce has noticeably reduced my urge to spend – it still boggles my mind that anyone would lineup for hours – or even camp out for DAYS – in order to get first crack at some item or another. There have even been well-publicized incidents of people being fatally crushed by stampedes of frenzied shoppers. Pretty insane, IMO.
This morning on the CBC I heard someone discuss Black Friday as a return to our primordial selves – as a reflection of our need to acquire stuff in volumes as a hard-wired response to our traditional roles as hunters and gatherers. Maybe that’s a very tiny bit true. I’d say it has a lot more to do with people going to extremes to compensate for a spiritual void 0r lack of meaning in their lives. I’m certainly not immune to this tendency; I’ve fallen into this consumerist trap at various points in my life.
At any rate, rather than hitting the mall in search of something I likely don’t need, today I’m content to consume something of my own making – a Moroccan eggplant and chickpea stew! – which makes me feel far more fulfilled and like I’ve done something productive with my time!
A couple weeks ago I got to thinking about eggplant after my dear friend Katherine in the UK emailed me with an amazing suggestion. Rather than doing what I normally do with eggplant and roasting it in the oven, she recommends turning on your gas stove and doing the following: ‘using tongs of course, stick the eggplant straight on the hob, over the burning naked flame. Char it until it looks incinerated… past the point of no return… black, black and charred, the skin falling off. Then, once you can touch it, scrape out the insides and use in sauces, salads or anything’. According to Katherine this method imbues the eggplant with a wonderful smokey flavour – without of a single drop of added fat. Immediately after receiving her email I started to think about creating a recipe that would allow me to experiment with this technique.
Finally I settled on the idea of a stew. I absolutely love Moroccan spices and thought that in a tomato-y sauce they’d be a good compliment to the the smokey flavour of the eggplant, without overpowering it. I added in some chickpeas and a sprinkle of feta on top for protein, and couscous (which I haven’t eaten in ages and was starting to miss) provides a nice fluffy bed for the stew.
Isn’t it crazy how eggplant is so spongy and tasteless is its raw state, yet when roasted it takes on such a deliciously complex flavour? Talk about a dual personality! So readers, what are your favourite eggplant recipes? Do you prefer using the oven to roast it, or have you tried the stove top method? Now that I’ve tried the latter, I see homemade baba ganoush in my near future!
Recipe: Moroccan Eggplant and Chickpea Stew | Served on Whole Wheat Couscous
- 2/3 cup whole wheat couscous (or use quinoa as a gluten-free option), uncooked
- 1 cup water (to cook couscous)
- 1 medium eggplant
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
- 1 inch piece of ginger, minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 pods star anise
- 398ml can diced tomatoes, preferably organic
- 1 cup cook chickpeas
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste, preferably organic
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- A few wedges of lemon
- 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
- Salt to taste
Prepare eggplant: If you have a gas stove, roast your eggplant on your stove top, using tongs to turn periodically, until skin in black and flesh of eggplant is soft all the way through. If you’ve never done this before there’s a good tutorial here.
Alternately, you can also oven roast your eggplant. To do so, preheat your oven to 400F. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise, then cut each half into thirds. Place eggplant segments skin side down in a single layer in a casserole dish and brush with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Place in oven for 25 minutes or until eggplant is soft and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Once your eggplant is cool enough to handle, remove skin and cut it into smallish pieces (if you have oven roasted your eggplant you can leave skin on). Set aside until needed.
Finish stew: In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft. Add ginger and garlic and saute just until garlic is golden brown. Add all spices expect bay leaf and star anise and stir until combined with other ingredients. Add chickpeas and eggplant and stir until coated with spice mixture. Stir in diced tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar and water. Add bay leaf and star anise and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for at least 15 minutes but preferably a bit longer, as this will allow the flavours to develop. Taste and adjust flavour with salt if necessary. Remove from heat. Remove star anise pods and bay leaf before serving.
Prepare couscous: While stew is simmering, bring one cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in couscous, cover and remove from heat. Let sit for 5 minutes then remove cover and fluff with a fork.
Serve stew over a few scoops of couscous (or quinoa, if using). Top each portion with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of crumbled feta, if using. Eat!