Thanksgiving in Baghdad Part 1
A couple years back I got invited to cook for some very nice, but very â€˜normalâ€™ American friends of my mom. They relied on the traditional media for their information, and the war was just getting going. Of course I canâ€™t keep my mouth shut ever, so I was looking for a way to get the conversation turned to the war and what was really happening, in the hopes of educating some folks whoâ€™d otherwise not hear a strong and well informed anti-war perspective.
So I cooked a Middle Eastern themed dinner. These nice people live in a rural Midwestern town that didnâ€™t have any restaurants with menus lacking burgers, iceberg lettuce salads, and fried fish. Most of them hadnâ€™t traveled to big cities very often. The town in which they lived had â€œbothâ€ religions: Catholic and Lutheran. Obviously, there were no Muslims or people of Middle Eastern descent in town.
Anyway, I won them over because Iâ€™m a great cook (thank you, thank you) and also because I got the dinner table conversation going by explaining which cultures or nations had produced the dishes I served. Eventually, Iraq came up and I got to slip in a lot of little known at the time facts about why the war was a really bad idea. Lesson: people will listen to anything if you feed them tasty food.
My Gang and I have done â€œalternativeâ€ Thanksgiving for a long time now, and one thing I like is that we almost never serve the traditional turkey, cranberry sludge, etc. In honor of that, and the fact that this is Americaâ€™s traditional â€œwork? fuck that noise!â€ week, Iâ€™m going to hop on the gravy train that is Corrente recipes, and post one of my â€œsignature dishes.â€
Even if you hate eggplant, give this one a try. Folks in the Middle East and Asia have figured out all kinds of ways to make scary sounding foods taste yummy. I was a devoted Anti-Eggplanter until I found this one. Plus, itâ€™s both showy and cheap.
Youâ€™ll need: One large eggplant, four to seven lemons, about a 1/2 cup of chopped garlic, about a 1/2 store bought bunch of fresh parsley, olive oil and a large amount of light-frying veggie oil like canola.
Take a fresh eggplant, nice and firm and with no browning of the flesh. Slice it really thin- this is key; you want round, thin slices. Heat up a wide pan with half filled veggie oil (donâ€™t use olive, itâ€™s too heavy) and when it's cracklin' hot, put in the slices. Make sure each slice is comfortable and floating, no overlap. Fry each slice for 3-5 minutes a side, the color you want is brown to dark brown on each side. When fried, place them on a paper towel for a couple of minutes to drain. You can pat them on top with paper towel if you want.
In another pan, take some chopped garlic and brown it in olive oil. The jar stuff you find in the store is fine, if you donâ€™t want to spend a long time chopping cloves into little pieces. Brown, but donâ€™t burn the garlic and set aside. You need a good amount of it, enough to put 1/2 teaspoon on each slice of eggplant.
Squeeze at least four or five lemons of their juice, I like to keep the pulp in the juice but you donâ€™t have to. Fresh lemon juice makes all the difference in this recipe. You can use more juice, this is a â€˜more is betterâ€™ situation. Chop up about a half a head of parsley from one of those bunches they sell in most stores. Do Not Use Dried Parsley.
When all the eggplant is fried and dried off, arrange the slices in stacked circles of decreasing size. On top of each ring, sprinkle the garlic, then the parsley, and then the lemon juice. Serve immediately.
The crispy, buttery soft eggplant should melt in your mouth, and provide a fascinating contrast with the lemon, garlic and parsley. You could probably do this with zucchini, but I havenâ€™t actually tried that. Iâ€™ve made a lot of otherwise reluctant converts to ME food and eggplant with this dish, and if you want to do something different this Thanksgiving, I highly recommend it.
Thanks to Madhur Jaffery and her â€œWorld Vegetarian.â€