Virginia Willis Blog

Southern Recipes: Savory Eggplant Dip

Asian Eggplant Dip on www.virginiawillis.com

Eggplant Dip

It’s funny to me how eggplant isn’t often perceived as a Southern vegetable. Eggplant flourishes in the scorching heat of a Deep South summer. My grandparents grew row upon row of the stately bushes, heavily laden with the shiny black-purple orbs. The plants are absolutely majestic in the vegetable garden with their luscious, draped, fanlike leaves and vibrant colors. Eggplant Dip? No way. My grandmother seemed to only ever fry eggplant. She peeled, then dusted thick ivory eggplant steaks, peppered with an abundance of seeds in seasoned finely ground cornmeal. They were then pan-fried in a bath of sizzling hot oil in a cast iron skillet until golden brown and crisp.

eggplant on www.virginiawillis.com

Eggplant is immensely versatile. It’s truly one of my favorite vegetables. I love the meatiness of it, the texture and toothsomeness of it. How did Southerners not create our own herbed ratatouille, pungent caponata, or cheesy Parmesan? How were we not seduced by these jewel-like vegetables into developing our own sensual Baba Ghanoush or fiery hot Szechuan stir-fry?

Eggplant on www.virginiawillis.com

One of my strongest beliefs is that Southern cuisine is a living, vibrant cuisine. While I embrace traditional ingredients, I also firmly believe that the food of the South shouldn’t be judged solely by plantation cooking or what our grandparents cooked and ate. Also, sometimes I find myself in a French-Southern box – a delicious box that’s been very good to me, but a box nonetheless. It’s important to try new things in the kitchen. When this dish was first made for me, I instantly fell in love with it and still request it often. It’s an adaptation of Strange-Flavor Eggplant, a recipe by chef Barbara Tropp —  that was in turn inspired by a traditional Chinese recipe. Is it Southern? No, not at all. Is it good? Yes, indeed.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Virginia

Asian Eggplant Dip on www.virginiawillis.com
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Savory Eggplant Dip

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplant
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced green and white scallion rings
  • 1 serrano chile pepper cored, seeded, and chopped, plus more sliced for garnish
  • ¼ teaspoon dried red chile flakes or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons tamari
  • 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 475°F. Wrap the eggplant in foil and place in the oven. Roast until collapsed and very tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the eggplant and loosen the foil. Slit it lengthwise to speed the cooling.
  2. Combine the garlic, ginger, scallion, and Serrano pepper in the bowl of a small food processor fitter with blade attachment. Pulse to combine. Set aside. Combine the tamari, brown sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside.
  3. Heat a wok over medium high heat. Add the canola oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the reserved garlic-ginger mixture and red pepper flakes.
  4. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant 45 to 60 seconds. Add the reserved sauce ingredients and eggplant.
  5. Stir well to blend, and heat through. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve warm or cold. Keeps up to 5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

 

All other photos by Virginia Willis

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Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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