Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Aubergine Kuku

Okay, you know what? I just want to come right out and say that this past month officially kicked my ass, and I've been feeling a little burned out. The end of a rather trying semester, complete with ginormous research paper and grading of final exams, followed by the inevitable marathon of last-minute gift buying and wrapping, the laying in of massive quantities of food and alcohol, preparation (followed by consumption) of same, and entertaining of family and friends had me too knackered to care about anything but napping. This generalized ennui even extended to the kitchen - in the week or so after Christmas, I had no interest in cooking or eating anything. Even the piles of lovingly prepared leftovers in the refrigerator left me cold. The leek and bean cassoulet, the green beans almondine (so retro!), the mountain of roasted potatoes, the apple custard pie, the jarful of cookies - bah, humbug! It's taken this long for me to even entertain the notion of getting excited about cooking again, so it's fitting that I climb back into the proverbial saddle with a dish wholly divorced from the sort of traditional, "holiday" foods we've been scarfing down the last few weeks.

This started out as an adaptation of an Iranian frittata I saw in Yotam Ottolenghi's "New Vegetarian" feature in the Guardian. This column features some really interesting recipes, but they're often very heavy on the eggs and dairy - of course, the upside of this is that it presents a cool opportunity to put on the old Vegan Thinking Cap and figure out how the situation might be improved. In this case, it was a simple matter of substituting a batch of Isa Chandra Moskowitz's quasi-miraculous cashew ricotta from the Veganomicon for the five (count 'em) eggs in the original recipe, which effectively replicates the quiche-like texture we're after. I also played with the spices a little, and added some roasted peppers and chopped olives for extra color and taste- the result was a deliciously creamy, eggplanty dish that's equally good warm or at room temperature. We had ours for dinner with some couscous and roasted vegetable, but it would also be great for brunch. So - let's stop all the whinging and cook already, shall we? It's a new year!

Aubergine Kuku

~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 large onion, peeled and sliced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, chili powder
~ 1 tbsp. chopped parsley, plus extra to garnish
~ 1/4 tsp. each: cinnamon, nutmeg
~ Black pepper
~ 1 large or 2 medium eggplants, cubed
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 3 roasted red bell peppers, chopped (I used jarred)
~ 1/2 cup chopped black olives
~ 1 batch cashew ricotta, prepared as directed in Veganomicon
~ 2 tsp. corn starch
~ 1 tsp saffron strands, dissolved in 2 tbsp. of hot water
~ 1 tbsp. lime juice

~ Preheat the oven to 400F.
~ Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based pan and sauté the onions over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until soft but not brown.
~ Add the eggplant to the onions and cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for around 10 minutes, until it is completely soft (add a little more oil or water if needed, but not a lot).
~ Add the chopped bell peppers and olives and cook another 5 minutes.
~ In a large bowl, whisk together the cashew ricotta, corn starch, the saffron and its water, and the lime juice.
~ Add the eggplant mixture and combine thoroughly.
~ Coat a deep-dish pie plate with cooking spray. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake uncovered for about 45 minutes, until golden-brown and cooked through (insert a knife or toothpick in the middle to make sure it has set).
~ Remove from the oven and set aside to cool about 10-15 minutes.
~ Place a serving platter over the top of the pie plate and invert to turn it out.
~ Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges and sprinkled with extra parsley.

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