November 20, 2013 10:00:55 AM
This dish is my idea of a one-size-fits-all appetizer for the looming holidays, whether we're talking about Hanukkah, Thanksgiving or Christmas.
It's particularly apt for Hanukkah because the eggplant is "fried" in oil -- and oil is one of the holiday's central symbols. The good news is that the eggplant is pan-fried -- not deep-fried -- and vegetarian, so it's still reasonably healthy. Heck, if you built a bigger version, you could even turn it into a vegetarian entree.
Buying fresh eggplants is key. Whatever its size -- and they range from thin Asian strains to big and bulbous Italian-Americans -- an eggplant should have a very shiny skin and be firm and smooth to the touch. Also, it's best to cook it as soon as possible after you buy it. Eggplants don't like the refrigerator; they tend to deteriorate quickly in the cold.
The eggplant's blandness makes it a terrific host for spices. I went Middle Eastern here, with cumin, smoked paprika and cayenne. But you're welcome to roll instead with a curry or Cajun mix, or with chopped dried herbs. However you spice it, the recipe's yogurt-cucumber sauce, which consists of exactly three ingredients and requires only 5 minutes to prep, provides a lovely cooling counterpoint.
One note about the breading procedure: it's important to knock off the excess flour, let the excess egg mixture drip off, and to tap off the extra breadcrumbs. If you don't, you'll end up with an over-breaded slice of eggplant and too few crumbs. Breading the eggplant keeps it from absorbing too much oil. The end result is wonderfully creamy. My husband, no fan of eggplant, scarfed up these tasty little bites with no complaint.
No small eggplants at the grocer? About 1/2 pound of a larger one can be substituted, but you'll need to cut it differently. Start by cutting the larger eggplant into 1/3-inch-thick slices, as directed. Then cut each slice into quarters. Proceed as directed in the recipe.
SPICED EGGPLANT WITH CUCUMBER-GARLIC SAUCE
Start to finish: 40 minutes (20 minutes active)
Makes 6 servings
1 small eggplant (1/2 pound and about 2 inches wide), cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (to taste)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2-inch piece seedless cucumber
1/2 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
1 small clove garlic, minced
Chopped fresh parsley, to garnish
Nutrition information per serving: 140 calories; 60 calories from fat (43 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 4 g protein.