Tuesday, October 16, 2012

When Life Gives You Eggplant, Make Dessert!

I’m not necessarily a big fan of eggplant, but I do like what happens when you cook the living daylights out of it, as in certain Sri Lankan and Moroccan recipes, so when I ran across a recipe by Deborah Madison for Savory Eggplant “Jam” with Cumin and Coriander, I knew that I would like it. It was, indeed, quite tasty, and I especially loved the sticky, silky texture. Because eggplant doesn’t have much of its own flavor, I thought that it might make a good foundation for a sweet, dessert-y treatment, so I started to experiment.

The first attempt was a cinnamon walnut concoction that turned out really well. It would be right at home rolled up inside some kind of pastry. I added fenugreek for a touch of maple flavor, and it was even better.

The second stop was inspired by a dish from the Amalfi coast of Italy which pairs breaded, fried eggplant with chocolate sauce. I added cocoa powder and toasted, slivered almonds to the mashed eggplant matrix, and was absolutely blown away by the natural affinity of these ingredients for each other. It was a bit like chocolate pudding. After a night in the fridge, I was even more blown away, as the texture had transformed into something more like chocolate frosting.

The third and fourth variations were less successful, using orange flower water in one, and raspberries in the other. They weren’t bad, but it seems as though these delicate flavors were not bold enough to stand up to the slight eggplant flavor. My (non-Primal) taster simply shook his head, “No”.

The fifth recipe was a revelation. I tried to recreate the coconut pecan frosting that is typically spread on German chocolate cake.

Oh my.

Granted, if you give it to someone who eats German chocolate cake every day, they will not be fooled. However, for someone who hasn’t eaten sugar, eggs or dairy in several months, this is definitely a treat. I wouldn’t recommend using it as a frosting, unless you’re willing to cook down several pounds of eggplant to make enough to cover a (grain-free!) cake, but put it in a little dish, call it dessert and prepare to smile. It would also be an enjoyable breakfast for anyone who misses the creamy/chewy texture of steel-cut oats.

Because sweetness varies between different  brands of stevia, as with all desserts, start small and add more in tiny increments until you reach your ideal sweetness level.

Please note: Since eggplant is a nightshade, which can trigger an inflammatory response in some people, I would keep this as an occasional indulgence, for when you are really hankering for that very distinct textural experience.

Sweet Eggplant Dessert

Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 pound eggplant, purple or white, slender or round
Sea salt
3 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee
10 drops (or to taste) Stevita brand stevia (if using a different brand, use to taste)
  tsp. alcohol-free vanilla extract
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp ground fenugreek (optional)
¼ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup coconut milk (optional)

Peel the eggplant, and slice into 1/2 inch rounds, salt generously, and set on a plate for an hour, or longer if time allows. Rinse, then squeeze the eggplant dry in a towel.
Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add the eggplant and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until well browned on both sides, about 15 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup water, reduce the heat, and mash the eggplant with a fork or spatula until it’s broken into a jam-like consistency. This can take 15 – 30 minutes, depending on the eggplant. Add walnuts. Add more water (or coconut milk, if using, up to ½ cup, then switching back to water if necessary), as it cooks, to help break it down. Mash occasionally.

The pan can be covered or uncovered, though leaving it uncovered means that you’ll have to monitor it more closely, and add water more frequently. You can uncover the pan and let the excess liquid cook off when the eggplant is finally soft.

Remove from heat. Add the spices, vanilla and stevia. Mix well. Mound in a shallow bowl or in individual dishes and serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.


 Coconut Pecan Variation

Make as above, but increase the (now mandatory) fenugreek to ¾ tsp. and omit the cinnamon. Substitute ½ cup chopped walnuts and ½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. shredded, unsweetened coconut  for the walnuts. For optimal results, do use the coconut milk option, and if you are able to use ghee, it will result in a better, buttery flavor.

Chocolate Variation

Make as above, but omit spices. With vanilla and stevia, add 2-4 Tbsp cocoa powder (2 if you are planning on eating it warm, 4 if you are planning on eating it cold, or try 3 if you aren’t sure) and ¼ cup toasted, slivered almonds. Here again, the coconut milk option will give you a broader flavor and richer texture.

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