Batter-Crisped Eggplants in Fresh Tomato Sauce
Vegetable cookery on Ikaria, as throughout the greek countryside, is really varied. This recipes is an old one, which I wrote down while sitting with Myrsina Rousso, 80 or so, in her garden in Manganiti while she recounted numerous recipes and details about the life and food on the island in the 1940s. It’s a simple and filling dish: whole eggplants dipped in batter and pan-fried, then served with a garlicky tomato sauce. The frying might seem counter-intuitive when it comes to discussions of healthy vegetable recipes, but in Greece home cooks pan-fry many vegetables in olive oil, a tradition that stems from the days when in-house ovens were not part of the general kitchen panoply. For me, the real gift of this dish is that it has taught my children to love eggplants, an otherwise difficult vegetable for a teenage palate.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin Greek olive oil
- 1 large red onion finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 3 cups chopped or pureed tomatoes preferably fresh
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pinch of sugar as needed
- 6 Japanese eggplants long and thin
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup water
- Olive oil for frying
- 1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves only, finely chopped
Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a medium size pot over medium heat and sauté the onions for about 8 minutes, until wilted. Add the garlic and stir a few times to soften. Pour in the tomatoes, season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar if the tomatoes are acidic. Simmer uncovered until thick, about 30 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the eggplants: Keep the stems attached and the eggplants whole. With a sharp knife, starting about a half inch below the stem (keep the stem attached), cut the eggplants lengthwise to get three to four 1/4-inch slices (the number of slices will depend on how thick the eggplant is). The eggplant will look a little like a fan. Season the flesh lightly with salt.
In a wide bowl, whisk together the flour, water and a little salt.
Over medium flame, heat about an inch of olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet. Dip the eggplants in the batter pressing down so that the entire eggplant, and both sides of every fan-like slice, are covered in batter. Let the excess drip off. Carefully place, one or two at a time, in the oil. Cook, turning once, until golden brown and soft.
Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
To serve: Place on a platter, spoon the sauce on top and sprinkle with chopped parsley.