Eggplant with Charmoula

Eggplant CharmoulaI’ve always been a bit suspicious of eggplants.  It isn’t the color; they display some of the most gorgeous colors and gloss seen in the vegetable world.  The shape, while bulbous, isn’t a problem either.  The issue is texture.  Specifically, the pithy nature of their uncooked flesh.  The flesh doesn’t seem natural and squeaks when you cut into it, managing to be both annoying and weird at the same time. I have a hard time eating food that, off the shelf, is that texturally strange.  No matter how visually nice they look, I know it is only skin deep.  Sad.

Here’s how I see it; the best way  to deal with an eggplant, should one cross your path, it through heavy, multi-stage processing. In this way, you can simultaneously reduce it to an unrecognizable form and establish your control over this dubious vegetable and your relative place in the universe.  Yay!  Perfect examples of this strategy are baba ghanoush and the subject of this post, Eggplant with Charmoula.  I regard the lengthy cooking time as the price of admission to unlocking some truly remarkably rich and somewhat smoky flavors from an ingredient that I would otherwise not be able to handle.  It’s worth it…. 

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Tofu with MIso Mushroom Sauce

Often served in proportions similar to the main dish, once concocted, this side has remained a “go to” side for us; almost a food group in its own right.  It is much, much more some cubed up tofu smothered with a sauce.  I think what makes this dish remarkable is the complex interlacing of the flavors and textures, the creamy freshness of the tofu, the astringent bite and heat of the chili oil, the saltiness and bitter edge of miso and walnuts, and the earthiness of the mushrooms.  Hit this with some crunchy scallions and some peanuts to complete the effect.  There is a lot going on here and, as a result, this conspiracy of goodness ends up being entirely satisfying and extremely filling.  Hats off to Mrs. Fuji, author of The Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan, as her work formed the base idea for the mushroom sauce used here…. 

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