Gourmet Survivor 2004: Fourth Challenge Fulfilled, “Vegetables for Dessert.”

This round, guest judge Clotilde (of Chocolate & Zucchini fame) compelled our remaining six contestants to use vegetables in a dessert. The results are simultaneously thrilling, terrifying and occassionally disgusting. Clotilde will be judging immunity this round but perhaps your comments will influence her. Since 5/6 of the contestants created webpages for their entries, I’ll post the links below instead of the actual text (except for Harry who has actual text AND a link.) As per usual, these are posted in the order I received them…

Wendy’s Entry: I’ll Sauerkraut You Good!

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Michelle’s Entry: Tomato Devil’s Food Cake with Yam Ice Cream

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Harry’s Entry: I’ll Have The Eggplant Please

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I recently read the book Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods. The author spent a full year eating food that was grown, raised or created within a 150 mile radius of his home in Arizona. He discovered an amazing amount of foods and traditional uses of wild herbs and cacti that are indigenous to his home. I found this book incredibly inspiring and I promised myself that I would make an effort to purchase as much locally grown foodstuff as possible. Granted, my country is the size of New Jersey so this task didn’t prove too difficult. Israel is a country where local foods are treasured. Virtually every city has an open air market where locally grown fruits and vegetables, fish caught daily in the Mediterranean, fresh meat and dried herbs are regularly available. The produce is always of higher quality and substantially cheaper than the supermarket. I decided to keep things local in this challenge. Every product used in this recipe was purchased in the open air market of the city of Ramle and grown or produced within 50 miles of my home.  

I once ordered a croissant at a coffeehouse. It came with a confiture which, at the time, I thought was plum. It was quite delicious so I asked if they sell it – which they did – but the waitress corrected me and said that the jam was actually eggplant, not plum. To be honest, I wasn’t that surprised. Eggplant is perhaps the most versatile vegetable I have ever come across. Here in Israel I have seen it smoked, grilled, in numerous salads, as a caviar substitute and even the key ingredient in vegetarian chopped liver. I have not however, seen eggplant as a dessert. In the eggplant’s versatility I found my muse.

I decided to make candied eggplant. This recipe is influenced by a Lebanese method of candying.  

On to the recipe.

I sliced the eggplants and cooked them in boiling water for about five minutes. While the eggplant was cooking, I combined water with sugar and threw in some cloves and ground cardamom for added flavor.  

 

Once the eggplant was cooked I placed it in the syrup and let the eggplant “candy” in the fragrant liquid. I slowly brought the syrup to a boil and brought it down to a simmer for about 40 minutes. I then threw in some fresh lemon juice and about a teaspoon of rose water and let it simmer for another five minutes or so.

I served the candied eggplant with fresh Malawach which is a popular multilayered fried flatbread brought to Israel by Yemenite Jews. Malawach is usually the size of a large plate but, for the purpose of this dessert, I cut it in uniform circles the size of the eggplant slices.

Traditionally, Malawach is served with pureed tomatoes, a hard boiled egg and Zhug which is an incredibly hot condiment made from fresh chilies and coriander. Because Malawach is equally delicious with a dollop of nutella and a generous amount of powered sugar, I knew it would go well with something sweet.  

I placed the candied eggplant on the Malawach and threw on a generous scoop of homemade honey halvah ice cream (did I mention homemade?). See photos for details. I also added a light sprinkling of sesame seeds. The result? Interestingly delicious. The ice cream was the perfect topping for this hot dessert. The sweet natural taste of honey halvah ice cream complimented the flowery taste of the rose water for a unique blend of earthiness. The melted cream on the hot eggplant and Melawach was perfect; it was like a Middle Eastern Pie a la Mode. The end result was very, very sweet but that’s the way Middle Eastern desserts are supposed to be. To put the texture in a frame of reference: it was like an oversized piece of Baklava and had a similar consistency. If I were to make this again, I would probably put a little less rose water. Even thought it’s an acquired taste that I have acquired, it can easily overwhelm whatever it’s used in. This dessert should always be accompanied by a bitter cup of Turkish coffee or tea with mint. Ah, the glories of local food indeed.

Dallas’s Entry: Caramelized Yams with Almond Brittle

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Nick’s Entry: Yam Cheesecake

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Andrea’s Entry: Carrot Rugelach

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23 comments

  1. Oh come on, people, yams and tomato…. This is almost dull. Only two of you stick out, Wendy with sauerkraut and Harry with eggplants. And since I can imagine how yummy that candied eggplant is, I would like to influence the judge in favor of Harry.

  2. From a purely Google standpoint, only the carrot rugelach are unique, though there are carrot cookies on the net.

    Results per Google search

    “sauerkraut chocolate cake” – 500

    “yam ice cream” – 150 (not including “sweet potato ice cream” results of 376)

    “tomato devil’s food cake – 100

    “candied eggplant” – 29

    “yam cheesecake” – 22

    “carmelized yams” – 4 (!)

    “carrot rugelach” – 0 (but “carrot cookies” – 1510 – more than any other)

    Using Scattergories/Boggle rules, I think you have to eliminate the three yam recipes because the key ingredient was used by other contstants, which leaves you with a choice between the carrot rugelach (unless you think they’re just carrot cookies) or the runner-up candied eggplant (which certainly wins for overcoming theoretical nastiness).

    I acknowledge the carrot cookie Achilles heel, but I’m shocked no one ever posted a rugelach recipe with carrots on the Internet before so I’d suggest immunity go to Andrea.

    (Not that I have any say, but punditry is my proclivity.)

  3. Harry deserves immunity. The idea is funky and the final result looks delicious. But now I want to know how to make eggplant jam. And also what haapened to Harry’s dog.

  4. Too tame – you want something really different, try this – an avocado smoothy. Combine in a blender: crushed ice, 1/2 a ripe avocado, about 1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk, and about 1/4 cup water. Blend until smooth.

    Everybody who has tried this loves it. But it’s very rich. Sort of an avocado ice cream effect.

    It’s not original. I had something very similar as a “bubble drink” at a Vietnamese Pho restaurant.

  5. I vote for Harry for making me want to make eggplant jam!

    Also kudos to everyone who didn’t use “yams” which are sweet potatoes here in the US.

  6. I forgot to add: Harry’s eggplant. Eggplant is definitely on par with avocado as a non-standard sweet vegetable.

    -Pete

  7. Was there a strict definition of vegetable established? Can you judge anything with tomato or eggplant (technically fruits, like avocado, peppers, cucumber, and zucchini) against what fits the textbook definition of vegetables? This is a tricky challenge.

    Also, yams and sweet potatoes are not the same thing. Yams are more closely related to carrots (orange on the outside and the inside), and their flesh is stringy. A sweet potato has mealy flesh and red skin.

    I say Andrea’s Carrot Rugelach!

  8. I can not decide! They ALL are so great! I do have to say that putting kraut in a cake takes some guts and the pepper frosting had me cracking up. Immunity for Wendy but Dallas should send me what’s left of her yam yumminess.

  9. Immunity to Harry. His entry looks like a five-star restaurant dessert – totally mouthwatering.

  10. While Andrea’s definitely looked like the one I’d want to eat the most, carrots are used in other deserts, so I’d have to pick Harry for doing the best with a horrible sounding idea.

  11. If we’re going to be picky, yams are tubers… but what does everyone have against them? They’re so versatile – they can go with turkey AND into cheesecake… and can stand alone… *sniff* (Excuse me… I’m getting all emotional.)

    Sooo many to choose from… but I think Dallas should get immunity because her entry reminds me of a dessert I was served at the only sit-down wedding reception I’ve ever attended.

  12. It was tough to choose a favorite this time because of so many creative and interesting entries, but I’d have to go with Dallas. What presentation! And it sounds yummy.

  13. Harry—without question. His entry was the only one that seemed totally bizarre (although sauerkraut gets some respect), and yet…the eggplant looked so good…

  14. CARROT RUGELACH, all the way! Although Harry’s eggplant looks delicious too, I think the rugelach win on likeability, relative ease of preparation, and independent inspiration. Plus, they are sooo cute, and we all know Clotilde likes cute things, so I predict a landslide here. ;)

  15. Harry’s my vote.

    While Wendy, Michelle and Andrea all made recipes that I do want to try, Harry’s use of an eggplant was adventurous and the results look so delicious. The explanation that accompanied the recipe is also great. So, two thumbs up from me!

    (And, I’m fascinated by the idea of eggplant jam… yum! Must track down a recipe for that.)

  16. I would like to thank all the talented participants, Wendy, Michelle, Harry, Dallas, Nick and Andrea (in order of appearance) for rising up to my humble challenge with such class and excellence, and for producing such an array of stupendous vegetable desserts. Nonetheless, it is my terrible duty, as a judge, to grace one, and only one of them, with immunity.

    Now if you don’t mind, I’ll take the liberty to play a little strategic trick (hopefully I’m not breaking any rule).

    My favorite entry was Harry’s, for the interesting things he told us about food in Israel, for the halwa ice-cream (mmmh, halwa ice-cream!), and for the great presentation. In passing, French chef Thierry Coué is known for his eggplant and cardamom crepes, a delightful and surprising dessert not unlike Harry’s. Great minds think alike, well done Harry!

    However! However, however… I will *not* grant immunity to Harry, because his entry was widely recognized in the comments as a quality achievement, so I don’t think he is the most in need of my gift of immunity. Instead, I will grant immunity to my second favorite entrant, and that is… drumroll please… Dallas! For the salivating idea, the prettiness of the presentation and the fun picture gallery. So there you go, Dallas : walk serenely and without fear, you are not in any danger this week.

    And good luck to all the others!

  17. Thanks so much Clotilde—-although I think you think the readers vote the contestants off, whereas its actually contestants who vote contestants off. Thus you’ve left Harry pretty vulnerable. So, in a bold gesture, I’m going to grant both Harry and Dallas immunity this round. Peace be upon you.

  18. I thought the point of winning immunity was that you *won* immunity – not that it was given to you by someone who explicitly gave away the ability to judge this round.

  19. You know what, I may have to try making that Sweet Potato Cheesecake. I have a soft spot in my heart from too many candied sweet potatoes during my childhood. Who knows?

    Then again, crazy as it seems, my German heritage wants to believe that the sauerkraut cake isn’t that bad…

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