Jeanette - Off The Cuff

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Blogger at: and -- My name is Jeanette, and I was born in Sweden, but unlike the famous Muppet, I am not a professional Swedish Chef. I actually studied design and photography. I also was a freelance indie-rock critic for several magazines from 1998-2005, and had an in-house PR company for a while. Cooking is in my DNA--my dad's brother was a chef and their father was a pastry chef, my mom's mother was a caterer, who published a cookbook of traditional Finnish breads and pastries when she was 92. Everyone else in my family loves to cook, and we're not afraid to experiment. I have a yen for interior design and remodeling.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cordoba beer-battered eggplant with honey (Berenjena Con Miel)

This is a tapas-style delicacy that I first ate while vacationing in southern Spain, in the city of Cordoba.   It is called Berenjena Con Miel in Spanish, and I had it there, in a restaurant called Casa Pepe De La Juderia (The House of Pepe in the Jewish Quarters)  It would be no exaggeration to say that I completely pigged out on this deep fried battered eggplant dish, and for years, tried finding a similar recipe online, but not knowing for certain if I was making it right. 
I eventually remembered to contact my friend in Spain, whose brother gave me some approximates, and then I found an actual Spanish recipe online, which I translated a bit, and experimented some with.  This is the closest I’ve come to that magical dish I had once, ten years ago in 2001.  It is probably not exactly like the one at the restaurant, but it’s really good anyway. (Updated with new photos Sep. 2011)

Ingredients for Beer Batter:
1 1/4 cups white flour
1/2 – 3/4 bottle of beer – enough to make the batter the consistency of pancake batter. (*I used Alaskan Summer, and find that amber beer lends the most caramel-like flavor to the batter * )
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp paprika
1 clove minced garlic
Salt and pepper (a pinch of each)

Ingredients for Egg-dip:

1 egg
1/4 cup milk
salt and pepper

Bowl of white flour for dredging

1 large Eggplant, thinly sliced (which makes bigger discs) or two narrow Asian-style eggplants
Make the batter first, by mixing all ingredients in a medium sized bowl, and let it sit for an hour.

Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the eggplant.  Each disc should be no more than 1/3” in thickness.

Spread the discs out on a large cookie sheet, and salt both sides.  Let the salted eggplant sit for about 30 minutes, and then rinse each disc well (you’ll see brown liquid forming on the eggplant as it’s drawing out bitterness and moisture.)  Dry each slice of eggplant with a paper towel, before deep frying.


Preheat your oil (whether in a deep fryer or deep skillet) to medium hot.  This takes a little fine-tuning and I usually do a couple of test slices in the oil first.

Whisk the egg dip in a small bowl, and soak each slice in the egg  and milk mixture, and then dredge in flour, which helps hold the batter on the eggplant.  If you skip this step, the batter will just slide off and end up in clumps in the hot oil.  Lastly, dip it in batter until well coated, but not too thick.  Let the excess drip off before you put it in hot oil.

 The frying process takes a bit of time so I usually line up another cookie sheet with a couple of layers of paper towels next to my deep fryer to place each slice there … they can be kept hot in the oven at 250 degrees while you’re making the rest.  They usually stay fairly hot even if you don’t put them in the oven, if you work fast, and orderly.  If you don’t own a deep fryer, you can certainly cook them in a deep skillet with about an inch of canola or olive oil in it. Be sure to let the eggplant get golden brown on one side before flipping it over.
Serve hot with honey drizzled over the top.  The honey really adds an extra element of amazing!

Spring Rolls

spring rolls (3) (Edited on 02/16/2011 for additional optional ingredients & alternate soaking directions).

Maybe it is the pressure of being challenged to do new things in my cooking, as spurred on by this food blog, but wandering down the Asian food aisle, I think was what inspired me to buy the rice-wrappers for spring rolls.  I love so many Asian dishes, but sometimes it just simply doesn’t occur to me to make them myself.  That was my incentive to change things up, and make something new.
I always enjoy eating the spring rolls at restaurants, and realize there is no hard and fast rule as to what should go in them. 

My process came with a steep and fast learning curve.  For instance, those little wrappers are delicate, so I have learned that the kind of lettuce I had on hand was way too stiff to be rolled up without tearing the wrappers up. A few of them had to be double wrapped to be contained properly.
spring rolls 
1 package spring roll rice-wrappers
1/4 package rice vermicelli / rice sticks (i.e., pad thai noodles) OR
1/4 package "glass" noodles (they will have different thicknesses / textures so experiment with which type you prefer)

The first step, depending on the type of noodle, can take up to 30-40 minutes.  So check the soaking directions on your noodle package, and get a large skillet out, and pour about 2 cups of water in it… heat it up until boiling, turn the heat off, and then soak the rice noodles in it until soft—usually about half an hour.  After that, rinse them in a colander in cold water to get excess starch off.  Let them sit in the colander in the sink to drain.
spring rolls (1) 
Filling suggestions:
In this batch, I used the following--
red cabbage
green onions
rice noodles
lettuce (butter lettuce would probably work better than what I had, because it’s softer and rolls up better)
Other tasty ideas would be fresh bean sprouts, red bell peppers, cucumber or zucchini, endives….

spring rolls (2)While your noodles are soaking, wash and mince your herbs, wash, peel and finely sliver or julienne all the veggies length-wise for easiest assembly.  Leave each veggie in a separate pile on your cutting board so you can assembly-line the … uh… assembly.  (That’s a whole lot of assembling there.  But I guess that is where the art-form is inherent. My spring rolls—not so much! Yet.)
Simultaneously pour some fresh water into your large skillet, and heat it up, and then shut the burner off.  Use this hot water to soak your rice wrappers for 15-20 seconds each.  Lay out a clean and wetted tea towel on your countertop, and when you pull your moistened rice wrapper out of the skillet, carefully spread it out on the tea towel, and dab off the excess moisture if necessary.

Next, place a lettuce leaf in the center of a rice wrapper, topped with about 1/4 cup of rice noodles, and arrange a pinch of all the vegetables in a stack, leaving about 1 1/2 inches on the ends, plus enough on the sides of the wrapper to roll it up like a burrito.  Except it is a spring roll.  Not a burrito.

Finally, fold the short ends of the wrapper into the middle, grab one of the long sides, and gently, gently roll it together.  The rice wrapper should be sticky enough to seal itself.  If you have never had these before, they are served cold, so they make a good side dish for a hot protein, or an appetizer, or – as my husband said – a portable salad!

Serve with your favorite satay peanut sauce, or as I did, Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce, 25-Ounce Bottle (Pack of 2) which is The Goodness in dipping sauce.