06 November 2013

I Dream of Eggplant (Soba Noodles)

Remember Eggplant? Barely out of season and yet it seems so long ago that it was populating the market stands. In reality, it was less than a few weeks ago. I know because I bookmarked this recipe only a few weeks ago with the intention of making it before the fall produced turned to potatoes and onions. Procrastination for you. So I headed to the (gasp!) supermarket, and cheated on my seasonal ethos shopping like any normal person, at the big ole refrigerated grocery store where you can purchase raspberries alongside apples, year round. There I found my favorite black beauties, along with the other highly un-seasonal ingredients for this summery dish from my favorite cookbook author.

I'm hoping he won't come after me for copyright infringement as I've been obsessed with the three Ottolenghi cookbooks along with Mr. Ottolenghi's column in The Guardian ever since I started my humble blog. What can I say? The guy is the Dr. Seuss of cooking -- coming up with inventive flavor combinations that I would never have thought of but are sort of, well, magical.   

The one hindrance with cooking-Ottolenghi is that, despite the vegetable-orientation, many of  the recipes require hefty prep work. This seems counter-intuitive.Vegetables, I always thought, should be left on their own for the most part. Still, setting aside some slow cooking time for these thoughtful recipes will produce miraculous food. This little Soba Noodle salad is a case in point. The majority of the effort goes into preparing the various components, all of which, when put together just works.
Vinegary Soba Noodles with Eggplant
Adapted from Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi 
Serves 4 to 6 

1/2 cup rice vinegar (you can substitute apple cider vinegar) 
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
grated zest and juice of one lime

1/3 cup sunflower oil or olive oil
1 medium eggplant (3/4 -1 pound)
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces dried soba noodles
1 large ripe mango
8 ounces tofu
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
a handful each of basil and cilantro, chopped roughly

Prepare eggplant by cutting it in 1/2 inch squares and placing in a colander. Scatter with 1/2 teaspoon salt and set colander in sink or over a towel for 20 minutes. Prepare the tofu by slicing lengthwise in 1/4 inch slices. Place the slices on several layers of paper towels placed on top of a cutting board. Place several more layers of paper towels over the tofu, pressing down gently to remove liquid. Remove paper towels and leave the tofu to sit while you peel and cut the mango into 1/4-1/2 inch pieces. Rinse the salt from the eggplant and place them on a tea-towel or several more layers of paper towel to dry.  Finally, stack the slices of tofu and cut into 1/2 inch squares. You are finished with the majority of the niddly-prep work!

Bring a large pot of water to a boil while you make the dressing. In a separate small saucepan combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt over medium heat. Cook, stirring with a whisk for up to 1 minute, or until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and sesame oil. Set aside to cool, adding the lime zest and juice.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large skillet and fry the eggplant in three batches, until deeply golden. Transfer to a large plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt.

Cook the soba noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender. Drain, shaking off as much of the excess water as possible.In a large mixing bowl toss the noodles, the dressing, mango, tofu, eggplant, shallot, and most of the herbs. Let sit for an hour or so to soak up the flavor of the dressing. Before serving top with the remaining chopped herbs. The noodles keep well for up to 2 days.

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