Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Eggplant South of the Border

About 20 odd years ago my father bought a super duper Sharp Carousel convection microwave oven. The oven fit a 20+lb turkey and the convection feature meant you could use it as an oven but it cooked in a little less time. It was also well built and made the rounds from my parent's home to my sister's, then mine for a couple of years and finally back at my sister's house. I think it's still alive and kicking too.

The microwave included a glossy color hardbound cookbook. Not your typical bland instructional recipes but some really neat ones like varied ethnic dishes and a pretty extensive dessert section in a format that would have been equally at home on a bookstore shelf. My mom and I would flip through the book for new inspiration and this one was a favorite. I have no idea what makes this "south of the border" and I'm latin. I figure some editor must have run out of steam when it came to naming this but I'm hesitant to rename it because I might forget the new name and who knows if there's another former/current Sharp oven owner that is just googling for this recipe. Hey, stranger things have happened! For the record, I now own the book which my mother gave to me as family historian (which I prefer over packrat).

The bacon in this recipe is necessary in my opinion. Just enough of a smoky note to give the eggplant and ground beef a little depth. The eggplant practically disappears after simmering so for those who have picky eaters, you can reveal the ingredients post-dinner without fear. I can definitely see making this a veggie dish by adding a legume like lentils or chickpeas and maybe more veggies like zucchini. Although it may seem like an afterthought the cheese definitely fits in the recipe. The mild mozzarella is a great foil for the flavorful meat mix.

Originally the recipe was made completely in the sharp oven using the microwave feature. That's way too awkward for me so I quickly adapted it to stovetop. As for sides, the dominican in me opts for this white rice but I'm sure roasted potatoes, mashed or even an orzo mix might pair well. Eggplant South of the Border is pretty flavorful so don't go for anything too complicated as far as sides.

Eggplant South of the Border

4 stripes of bacon, sliced into 1/2" sticks
1 large onion, minced
1 large bell pepper, minced - any color will do
1lb ground beef
2 cloves garlic - minced
1 large eggplant, peeled and diced - I peel mine but not too precisley
1 8oz can tomato sauce
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
kosher salt to taste

Note: Please forgive some blurry photos. I had the baby literally riding my back while cooking in the mei tai and just as I would get a photo framed she would kick and squeal. Cute when you're not trying to balance a camera over a steaming pot.

First, render the bacon until it's crispy and brown. See that blurry shot? Apparently bacon makes the baby happy.

Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside. Add the bell peppers and onion to the bacon fat and season with salt and pepper. It's best to lightly season each layer of a dish to avoid having to heavily salt at the end. Saute the pepper and onion until soft.

Add the ground beef and brown the meat while breaking up large chunks with the spoon. You want the meat fairly loose and separate. Season with salt.

Cook the meat until no longer pink. Add the garlic and eggplant then stir well and saute for a minute. Season with salt again (it's boring but necessary).

After the garlic is fragrant add the tomato sauce and the rendered bacon. Right about now your home is smelling amazing. Pat yourself on the back. More salt.

Give the mixture a stir and allow to brown for another 3-5 minutes. In dominican cooking this step of browning the tomato products before simmering is key. Anything like tomato sauce and tomato paste benefits from some browning to take that raw canned tomato taste away. After browning the tomato sauce add enough water to just barely cover the meat. If you're my mom (and me) you'll take the tomato sauce can and fill that to rinse off any sauce and get the very last speck. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low.

Now it's time to let it simmer and stir about every 10 minutes to prevent scorching. The mixture is going to simmer for around 45-50 minutes. About halfway through, the liquid will be mostly evaporated and the eggplant will be tender but still firm and in defined chunks. Give it a stir. Add more water just to barely reach the level of the meat.

After about 45 minutes the eggplant easily melts when mashed/stirred with the spoon. Allow the liquid to reduce by half. The meat and eggplant resembles a very thick chili or, if you're familiar with it, picadillo. Taste to see if the seasoning is fine and adjust the salt if necessary.

Finally, smooth out the meat with the spoon and liberally top with shredded mozzarella cheese which will melt with the residual heat. Turn the stovetop off. You can also layer the meat into a casserole and top with cheese for a fancier meal.

Gently spoon the savory eggplant and beef over dominican white rice and enjoy the meal.

On a celebratory note, Mr. Maricucu is back in town from a business trip! Boy was he missed, even the dogs had trouble settling in for the night.


Tanyia said...

this looks delicious!!

Marielle said...

I'm so glad you like it! Must make it again soon because the craving for eggplant has hit again.