Slow It Down, Roast It Right: Turkish Eggplant Dip with Walnuts

I was at Tangled Noodle recently.  She was posting about having a bit of the blog blues. She took a trip through her local Farmers Market and brought away a few lessons she could use to re-invigorate, re-examine, and even re-flect a bit about why she keeps a blog in the first place. 

Which was a very timely bit of writing for me. Because SippitySup turns nine months old this week, and I am surprised what I have learned in the past nine months.

As is my way, whenever I decide to do something I always jump in with both feet. It’s just the way I am. Especially with something I love whole-heartedly and unabashedly.

But the things and people I love are very carefully chosen. Oftentimes people find me hard to get to know when we first meet. I have been accused of being standoffish and snobbish in my life. I prefer to think I am prudent and purposeful (and maybe a little shy). But that just may be semantics…who knows.

But my point is, my enthusiasm for SippitySup sorta surprised me. It came upon me very quickly. So, once I decided to love SippitySup I knew I would make sacrifices to keep it happy and well fed. I am also a natural caregiver…

Paula Wolfert cookbookSo in the care and feeding of SippitySup, I found that my kitchen choices and the style of foods I wanted to feature here began to change. Instead of thinking what would I like to cook or eat? I began to run every food choice through a SippitySup filter. Because not every recipe or every food fits SippitySup. I have to make editorial decisions in order to keep the look and feel of the blog authentic to its voice.

One of the most important decisions I made about the tone and style of SippitySup was to try and present food that suits the way people eat these days. But I did not want to be obsessed with “healthy recipes” Besides, I refuse to set aside the very things that make eating such a pleasure (cream, butter, eggs, cheese, red meat, alcohol, etc). After all these are the building blocks of excellence when it comes to really great food. So I wanted to set some balance and moderation in this department. Because I believe in balance and moderation even when I am jumping into something I love with both feet first!

I also like to present original recipes written and developed by me on SippitySup. This can be time consuming and a little bit boring to the people who eat at my house.  Because it can mean three peach tarts in one week! Each one only slightly different.

Before this blog, I enjoyed thumbing through a million magazines and cookbooks looking for a recipe to pop out at me and demand to be made. I generally remained fairly loyal to the author’s intention and only made a few minor changes.

I guess this is how I “learned” to cook. Because, as I have said I am not a chef. I have no formal training.

But the main change has come in the speed at which I cook. I seem to have put these self-imposed deadlines on myself. Which means I often prepare a recipe several times very quickly, then taste and try and re-try.

Next comes the rush to take a good photograph. But, of course, by “good” I mean one that suits my sensibilities. 

I believe blog photos need to have some editorial value. There must be some storytelling. I want to see the cook’s passion. I do not like photos that are just too close-up with standard compositions and tricky depth of field; or have too much perfection. They feel sterile and souless.

I am not saying I accomplish my goals photographically. But I do try and stay true to these precepts, I force myself to use a 100 dollar point and shoot camera and only use available light. There is honesty in good old-fashioned sunshine. Light should do more than illuminate, it should have texture and contribute to the mood.

Still, I do have a degree in art. I know about the emotional impact that the art-class-101 tricks like high-key, selective focus, negative space and shadow texture can have. I understand how colors work together, and I know how they make people feel. That is why I eschew the white balance setting. I actually want colors to reflect and interact. I recognize north light is a different color than west light. And keeping all this in mind I still want photos that suit the clean and classical style of SippitySup.

So, once the recipe choice, photos and writing are done then it’s another day. The  whole process starts over. It can make a person like me crazy. I need to sometimes take a deep breath and slow down.

Keep in mind I have many other obligations both personal and professional in my life (we all do). Which sometimes cause me to rush through Sup! in order to keep some balance and moderation.

So the other day, as I was reading Tangled Noodle, I was thinking about all this. I soon realized I needed to slow down and concentrate on cooking. Because I love cooking, I demand quality, and I am unhappy when the two are not aligned! I decided if I could just do this then Sup! would benefit and I would benefit.  Because if I am only writing and creating a certain style of recipe that I feel suits SippitySup, I will never grow as a cook. Right? I don’t worry about the photos so much. I have found balance and moderation there. Just don’t buy me an SLR or the whole balance may be thrown off!

Now none of this means there will be drastic changes at SippitySup. But I am going to slow down once in a while. I am going to pull out great cookbooks from great cooks. And I am going to take my time and make these recipes right. I am not saying I won’t make minor changes. I mean I am still, me. But I am going to open myself back up to more points of view. Which means more of my recipes may be sourced from outside of my brain. But I promise to keep the bulk of my material original, and my photos true to my vision.

I figure a good place to start is with Paula Wolfert. She is an absolutely flawlessly talented chef, and better yet– a writer. She may not have the PR machine of the Food Network celebrity chefs, but she is the real deal when it comes to what I admire most in a chef.

Her book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook is even aptly titled for what I am feeling these days. This book is simple and charming. It honors the foods and a certain mindset that says it’s ok to slow down. Because you know these foods are always worth the wait.

I am not saying these are complicated recipes. In fact, most of the recipes in this book are the quintessence of the simplicity. This simplicity, paired with honest ingredients, is the essence of Mediterranean cooking.

I chose Turkish Roasted Eggplant Dip with Walnuts. In the book Paula notes that the slower the grilling, the smokier the flavor of the eggplant. Which led me to make a small change to her recipe. Her directions called for green pepper. I changed it to red because I think the sweet notes are a good accent against the smokiness she described. But, in the interest of this exercise, it’s the only change I made.

turkish eggplant dip with walnutsServes 6

  • 2 3/4 pounds eggplants
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1‑cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

Pierce the eggplants with a sharp fork in two or three places (to keep them from exploding) and place them as high as you can on a V‑rack roaster. Set over a medium-low gas flame or over hot coals and grill, turning about three times, 15 minutes to a side, or until completely soft and the skin is black and blistery, about 45 minutes total. The longer and slower the grilling, the creamier the eggplant will be.

When the eggplants collapse, remove from the grill and let cool slightly. Remove the black parched skin, and then squeeze gently to remove any juices. Discard the juices, and crush the pulp to a purée with a fork.

Meanwhile, grill the pepper. Remove the pepper when soft, cover with a sheet of plastic and allow it to cool. Core, seed and slip off the skin. Chop it fine and mix it with the eggplant.

Mash the garlic to a paste with half the walnuts and the salt in a mortar and pestle or food processor. Add the cheese, oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper, and pulse to combine.

In a serving bowl, combine the garlic-walnut mixture with the eggplant-pepper pulp and mix well. Correct the seasoning. Mix the parsley and remaining walnuts and sprinkle on top.

Serve with pita toasted until crisp, or toasted rustic bread slices. May be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for several days.

Note: When large eggplants are roasted whole, you may notice black juices seeping out of the skin. If this happens, immediately slit the eggplant on one side and drain on a slanted board in the sink.


Greg Henry