Bounty from the middle of the table, part 1

As if it wasn’t enough that we completely denuded her home in the name of the ultimate vegan, gluten-free Thanksgiving (sorry, Mom! we’ll get your chairs, tablecloths, candlesticks, cushions, serving dishes, silverware, bowls, dessert plates, and glasses back to you soon, I promise. No more eating from mixing bowls!), my mom also brought our Thanksgiving table to life with a gorgeous “only in California” centerpiece made from a bounty of local, seasonal produce.

centerpiece2

A centerpiece artist extraordinaire, she didn’t know what colors and themes would be called for, or how much space we would have (not much, as it turned out – we had to use three improvised sideboards as it was to hold all the food), so she arrived at our place bearing many bags of handsome fruits and vegetables. She ended up going with a striking theme in purples and greens that people commented on all night and long after the event, and I ended up with so much produce it was like getting two CSA boxes (at least!) at once.

So there was a second Thanksgiving feast after the first, only this one was composed entirely from the centerpiece!  Leftovers from the big dinner got us through the weekend with house guests, and then it was time to turn my attention to all the beautiful bounty slowly wilting in the middle of the table. I wisely turned for inspiration and guidance to my favorite food bloggers, and they did not lead me astray.

Cauliflower

Technicolor purple cauliflower and fluorescent green fractaled romanesco went into the roasting pan to make Roasted Cauliflower Soup from FatFree Vegan Kitchen. I made the soup exactly as directed, although my truffle oil had gone rancid (it was a stocking stuffer given to me a while ago, so it’s not like I lost a big investment, phew!) so I couldn’t add that note at the end. It definitely needed a hint of fat for flavor and mouthfeel – I tried toasted walnut oil and that worked pretty well, but any more than one or two drops would have overwhelmed it. Generally, though, the soup was very good.

romanesco

I really just have to learn that I can’t use romanesco in recipes that call for cauliflower. It’s too dry and tough, for one thing, and too bitter for another. Had I made the soup solely with cauliflower I imagine it would have been silky smooth but because of the darn romanesco it never got beyond a nubby puree. The color was pretty, though, fading to grey-brown when cool but warming back up to a dark lavender.

caulisoup

Roasted Purple Cauliflower Soup

Eggplant

Eggplants featured prominently in the centerpiece, ranging in color from beautiful white and pale purple to the deep purples so dark they were almost black. The week before Thanksgiving we made a big batch of benghan bharta, our favorite eggplant dish of all time, so I wanted to try some new recipes this time.

eggplant

Karina, the Gluten Free Goddess, had a recipe for Eggplant Caponata that sounded really, insanely good. I even had olives in the house, which I never usually do ($8.99/lb at Rainbow Grocery, no thanks!), from the fancy olive assortment my mom brought over for appetizers. I roasted a fraction of my eggplant supply and whipped up Karina’s caponata in the food processor.

My gut instinct was not wrong – this stuff was really, insanely good. Duck and I basically had it as our complete meal, with crackers, for several meals in a row. I used canned tomatoes rather than fresh because tomatoes aren’t in season here right now, and that did not hurt a bit. The spread was too sweet for me, though, so I would probably skip the agave nectar next time, or at least taste the spread before adding it.

Eggplant Caponata with Olives and Capers

Eggplant Tapenade with Olives and Capers

I hated eggplant for most of my life and refused to eat it, until a few years ago I had some amazing, life-changing (in the eggplant department at least) eggplant pakora (eggplant breaded in chickpea flour and deep fried) pushed on me by the exceedingly interactive owner of our favorite local Indian restaurant. Once I became willing to try a little eggplant here and there, the dish that probably converted me from eggplant hater to full-time eggplant eater was Nasu Dengaku, grilled or fried eggplant with miso sauce. The eggplant is cooked until it melts into the softest, smoothest texture, and then it is broiled with a sweet-salty-sticky-yummy miso sauce on top.

I’ve been wanting to try making Nasu Dengaku (Broiled Japenese Eggplant with Miso Sauce) at home for a while now. Earlier this month I tried a recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian that involved pan-cooking the eggplant rather than grilling or frying it, but it didn’t turn out well at all. (Partly this was because we only had extremely assertive red miso for the sauce, rather than the traditional mild white miso. But the texture was all wrong, anyways.) This time I turned again to Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen, for a recipe that involved broiling as the main cooking method for the eggplant as well as for the traditional miso-sauce-broil.

Nasu Dengaku - Broiled Japanese Eggplant with Miso Sauce

Nasu Dengaku - Broiled Japanese Eggplant with Miso Sauce

The recipe uses agave nectar rather than sugar, which I think is great. I’ve made sushi at home for years, but when I first started preparing Japanese food other than sushi I was shocked to realize how much sugar is used in nearly every preparation. It even goes into sushi, too, as a component of all the cooking liquids that vegetables and mushrooms are simmered in to prepare them for rolls.

I made the recipe for Nasu-Dengaku exactly as directed, with one very notable exception. Rather than taking 3 minutes per side in the broiler to become tender, I would say my eggplants, which look to be the same size as the ones Susan uses, took more like 12 minutes, or more, per side. Who knows what wacky differences there are between broilers – the broilers on an electric oven, a modern gas oven, and an antique gas oven (like mine) aren’t even the same appliance – they just share a name. Once they were cooked through, however the broiling time for the miso sauce was perfect as given.

The final result was perfect! Exactly what my mouth was imagining! Make sure you have the right eggplants-to-mouths ratio so they can be eaten right away, however. They did not make good leftovers, sadly.

Well, now… the bounty from the centerpiece was so generous that I’ll have to complete my tale in another post. Stay tuned for artichokes, kale, and more!

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