little mean things we were doing, must have been part of the game, lending a spice to the wooing

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I started this week making some ice cream out of canned chickpeas based on a photo I’d seen on Instagram, and the whole process was kind of disastrous in that way where you start to wonder if your food is trying to tell you something, like, at first I tried pulverising the chickpeas in the food processor but they were still too chunky and granular so then I was like okay no worries I’ll spatula it into another bowl and use the stick blender, you know, the kind of thing you use to liquidise soups, and all that did was fling chickpea puree everywhere, and then I was like wait! There’s a smoothie blender in the house somewhere, one of those ones that will turn any quantity of vegetables into a silky-smooth and more or less potable liquid; at which point I accidentally misread the thrust of the fulcrum on the stick blender resting on the edge of the bowl by which I mean I flung chickpea puree across the kitchen floor, undeterred I spatula’d what was left into the smoothie maker, which finally did produce the absolutely smooth mixture I’d been seeking, uninterrupted by bits, then I made some cookie dough to stir in and added what I thought the rest of the ingredients should be (some oat milk, some golden syrup, some oil) and then put it in the freezer and realised I’d dirtied every single appliance in the kitchen, including the floor, including myself, and I did the responsible thing and burnt the house to the ground, no, I joke, I just cleaned it all up, and then when I went to taste the now-solidified ice cream six hours later I was like My God…it tastes like cold sugary hummus.

Luckily I had another recipe to blog about.

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But like, back to the ice cream for a second, the curious thing is that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and even though I was pretty convinced it was not the one, I nevertheless ended up eating the entire thing (in two sittings, don’t be aghast) in the hopes of working out if it actually tasted good or not, and honestly I’m still not sure? Like it really tasted like cold chickpeas? But then somehow it tasted almost amazing? And I simply could not stop eating it? If anything I admire the ice cream for not handing itself to me on a plate, for making me chase it, but obviously “deliciousness is a subtext that you have to really work to find” is not what most people are looking for in a recipe so I have returned to the drawing board, I just love ice cream SO much and while I’m perfectly content being vegan, I really do miss the absolute ease with which I could make or access ice cream previously.

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Anyway, this week’s recipe for Chinese Five-Spice panko fried eggplant really does hand it to you on a plate, the subtext is text, it’s straightforwardly delicious and deliciously straightforward. I saw a recipe on Food 52 for something they called Breaded Eggplant Cutlets and decided to make my own version. The main thing that I took from the recipe was the process of leaving the salted eggplant slices to sit for an hour, which is not the sort of time-consuming behaviour I’d normally indulge but it really does have a significant effect, meaning that when you come around to frying the eggplant, the flesh within gets quickly melting and tender while the panko crumb gets golden and crisp. Without the salting, there’s a good chance that the eggplant wouldn’t cook through and you’d end up with cotton-wool polystyrene.

The recipe on Food 52 suggests any number of ways that you can use these slices of eggplant but I chose to have them stuffed into a mustard-smeared supermarket roll with lots of rocket leaves: the sinus-clawing mustard and peppery greens counteract the fabulous oily richness of the eggplant and it’s a perfect lunch, where you’ve put in enough effort for it to feel like you actually care about yourself but it’s not so much effort that you end up crying from exhaustion once it’s done. Chinese Five-Spice powder is one of my favourite ingredients, it’s – usually – comprised of cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel, and Szechuan peppercorns, and has this warm, aromatic intensity to it that goes so well with the mildness of the eggplant. The aquafaba, which is literally just brine from a can of chickpeas, works perfectly as glue for the flour and panko crumbs but obviously if you’re not vegan or whatever you could just use a couple of beaten eggs. Panko crumbs are these really light, crunchy Japanese breadcrumbs, they really add to the crisp texture of the finished product and are pretty easy to find in most supermarkets, but if you can only find regular breadcrumbs it’ll undoubtedly still taste good because, well, everything fried tastes good.

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Chinese Five-Spice Panko Fried Eggplant

Inspired by this recipe from Food52.com

  • 1 eggplant, sliced into circles about 1cm thick
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or other non-iodised salt
  • brine (aquafaba) from one drained can of chickpeas
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 1/3 cup rice brain oil or similar, for frying
  • soft bread rolls, mustard, rocket or similar green leaves, to serve

Firstly, get two pieces of paper towel, and sit the eggplant slices on one of them on a plate. Sprinkle over the salt, lay over the second piece of paper towel, and then place a second plate on top to weigh it down. Leave the eggplant sitting for an hour, then remove the top plate and get rid of the paper towels.

Place the aquafaba in a bowl. Either in two separate bowls, or, as I did, in two piles on the plate that had previously been resting on top of the eggplants, mix the flour and Chinese Five-Spice powder together, and then mix the panko breadcrumbs and nutritional yeast together.

Dunk each piece of eggplant first into the flour, then the aquafaba, then the breadcrumbs, then repeat this process so each piece of eggplant has been twice-dunked in everything. It will be kind of messy and your fingers will get covered in gunk and I’m telling you now: don’t eat it, you’ll be tempted, but just don’t, it’s…not good.

Heat the oil in a good-sized saucepan and fry the coated eggplant slices for a couple of minutes on each side, carefully turning once they’re a deep golden brown colour. Remove to a plate lined with another piece of paper towel, then eat however you like: I chose to spread mustard on some soft white supermarket bread rolls and then stuffed them with the eggplant slices and a handful of rocket leaves.

The amount that this serves depends on how you serve it and how hungry you are, I had two bread rolls with four pieces of eggplant in it for lunch and was pretty content so I guess what I’m saying is definitely scale up if you’re cooking for other people.

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As for the chickpeas that are left from when you drain the can for its brine…just make hummus.

title from: I Surrender, Dear by Bing Crosby. This was one of his very first hits in 1931 and it’s just, you know, some really good rainy day crooner music.

music lately:

The Infinity Room, an album by 36. This is immensely dreamy and swoony, much like the person who recommended it to me. Like, it makes me want to lie down and also get up and dance at the same time.

Old Town Road, by Lil Nas X with Billy Ray Cyrus. Look, this song is everywhere right now and it’s so catchy but in this way where I want to hear all the catchy segments of it at the same time all on top of each other, kind of like when I tried curly fries for the first time and I was suddenly panicky like, I need to cram all the curly fries into my mouth at once in order to truly understand their deliciousness, if I eat them only one at a time it’s too fleeting. It’s hard to imagine now, but curly fries were quite the game-changer. Anyway this song is good as hell and I hope it tops the country charts for a very long time. Yee, and I cannot stress this enough: haw.

Shallow Tears, Light Asylum. It sounds atmospheric yet thrilling, it sounds old yet new, I love those big drums and the singer’s big Depeche Mode-y voice.

Next time: I am actually not done with my canned bean ice cream scheme yet, this heedlessness possibly spurred on by watching a lot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (“face your fears! run with scissors!”)

PS: a special and heartfelt thank you to my Patreon patrons! I LOVE YOU! If you are not a patron, but you enjoy my writing and want me to be able to do it more, then indeed please consider signing up. A couple of dollars per month from you directly influences my ability to write more and gets you exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is or a recipe for the best vegan scones.

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