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…
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.