Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thai Style Eggplant with Chickpeas

When you think of comfort food, what comes to mind? For me, comfort food is a spicy stir-fry over a mound of fragrant steamed white rice. Although it may not be the traditional American concept of comfort, hot savory vegatables and rice is a combination that not only stimulates my tastesbuds, but also gives me the warm feeling of being "at home" no matter where I'm enjoying the meal.

Growing up in a small Midwestern town, authentic Chinese food (no I'm not talking about orange chicken) was nearly impossible to find outside a Chinese family's home kitchen. I rarely dined out and even more seldomly visited Chinese restaurants. Stir fry and rice is something that I associate with home and sharing a meal with family and friends. After arriving at Penn, most of my sustenance has been from the campus dining halls. Although the food is quite good, (waayyyyy better than that stuff they served us in high school, space nuggets anyone?) it is relatively bland as to cater to the tastes of most students. There is a special something that distinguishes a home-cooked meal from cafeteria food: that extra kick in your mom's noodle soup, that special shape of your neighbor's homemade dumplings. While one of my roommates and I were devouring the leftovers from today's recipe, she told me that the dish reminded her of her mother's home cooking. I was truly flattered because in my opinion, there is no dish more comforting than one that reminds you of the people and places you treasure. For some people comfort food is a rich, bubbly macaroni-and-cheese, for others it's a crunchy taco with all the fixings, yet for others it's a simple plate of stir-fry over steamy rice. Whatever your idea of a comfort food, I hope that it brings you pleasure beyond your taste buds.

This week's recipe features tender baby eggplants, lots of chili, garlic, and ginger, and fresh basil. It was yet another delicious meal from the farmers' market. Feel free to reduce or increase the amount of chilis according to taste. Without further adieu, here is the recipe:

Thai Style Eggplant with Chickpeas
Makes 4 servings

4 small Japanese or baby eggplants (about 2lbs), diced into ½’’ cubes
3 tbsp. canola oil
2 jalapeños or Fresno chilies, finely chopped (adjust amount according to taste)
4 green onions, sliced, white part and green parts divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
1’’ piece of ginger, minced
1 ½ tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 small vine ripened tomatoes, diced
1 (15oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tsp water
Sea salt and white pepper, to taste
About ½ cup chopped fresh basil
Hot cooked jasmine rice, for serving

Heat oil in large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add eggplant, season with about ½ tsp. sea salt, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, white parts of the green onion, and chilies and sauté one minute more, or until fragrant. Dissolve sugar in soy sauce and vinegar. Add to skillet and stir until mixture is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and chickpeas and cook until tomatoes begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add cornstarch mixture and stir. Turn off heat. Wilt in fresh basil and green onion tops. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Serve with jasmine rice. Enjoy!

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