One warm summer afternoon, when I was about 14, Mom left me alone at home to run an errand or two. I decided to make lunch.
I walked out, barefoot, to our vegetable garden and pulled up three or four carrots, then proceeded to the herb garden where I plucked a small handful of fresh fennel fronds. Inside in the kitchen, I cut the carrots into rounds and placed them, with the fennel, in a pot of water. Carrot, fennel soup was born.
Well, not really. After fifteen minutes at a bare simmer I grew frustrated by the still crunchy carrots in warm water that tasted lightly of licorice. It was a complete failure.
Last week I entered my kitchen with a far less likely combination in mind. It’s early in the year, but a few hothouse eggplant and Georgia peaches had shown up at the Market. Growing tired of the slow arrival and even slower departure of spring produce, I decided to give them a try. “Why not together?” I thought.
Eggplant and peaches sounds like an absolutely terrible combination, until… I thought of sweet, rich eggplant fries, crisp on the outside and meltingly soft in the middle, all bitterness gone. It was the same rich, sweetness that I prized in Thai eggplant stirfries.
So I salted the eggplant to sweat out the bitter, earthy flavor. Dipped in egg and breaded in panko, with cornmeal for crispness, chipotle for smoky heat and cardamom for warmth, I fried the cubes in olive oil. Having already spent too much time and effort on the eggplant, I simply diced the peaches and tossed them together with fresh basil and a bit of oil and vinegar. Topped with a grating of mild cheese, it was, despite all odds, delicious.
Now, I think it’s time to try that carrot, fennel soup again.
Fried Eggplant with Peaches
Serves 6 – 8
- 6 cups eggplant cut in 1” cubes
- 1½ cups panko bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup corn meal
- 1/4 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ground chipotle chile or chile powder
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup grated Chèvre à Racler*, a very mild cheddar would work also
- 2 peaches, cut in 1/4” dice
- 1 tbs Sherry vinegar*
- 1 tbs olive oil – the good stuff!*
- 2 tbs thinly-sliced basil
*Sapore shoppers, the peach salsa is amazing with Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry vinegar and Basil olive oil. You can find Chèvre à Racler, a beautiful, alpine, semi-hard goat cheese, at Sona Creamery.
- Place eggplant on a single layer on a sheet pan. Sprinkle generously with salt and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels.
- Toss together ingredients for peach salsa and let sit.
- Mix together panko, cornmeal, ground cardamom and chile. Mash with a fork, or pulse a few times in a food processor, to blend the ingredients and break down panko into a smaller crumb.
- Place several cubes of eggplant in the egg to coat. Shake off excess and toss in breadcrumbs.
- Heat olive oil in a cast iron, or other heavy skillet over medium heat. The oil is ready for frying when the end of a chopstick or wooden utensil placed in the pan sends up small bubbles.
- Add eggplant and cook until golden and crispy. Dry on paper towels. Repeat until all eggplant is cooked.
- Serve eggplant topped with peach salsa and grated Chèvre à Racler cheese.