Tuesday, August 18, 2009

From farm to table

As I mentioned before, I love farmers' markets. When I first moved to  New York from India, I excitedly planned a visit to the famed Union Square Greenmarket in my first week - only to be crushed to find nothing but a few apples, pears and cut flowers on sale. The month was April, and it dawned on me that the growing season was yet to get underway! Once it did, I delighted in the new tastes it threw up - delicately garlicky ramps, weirdly beautiful romanesco, or fiery manzano peppers, anyone?
The picture above is of some of my wares from this weekend's trip to the farmers' market - so naturally, I had to plan my lunch around the contents of this basket. Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables so it was no surprise that I gravitated towards it. Roasted, grilled, stuffed, braised... I can think of so many ways to enjoy it. For today, though, I settled on pan-fried eggplant with a lentil salad.

I used French green lentils, which hold their shape very well even when fully cooked - but brown ones would be fine too, or chickpeas (which are always great with eggplant). I cooked them with some of the green onions and cherry tomatoes, but you could leave those out, or use whatever vegetable you had on hand - onions, shallots, carrots, leeks, celery would all work well. While the lentils were cooking, I made the dressing, and sliced and salted the eggplant. There seems to be a permanent controversy about whether or not to salt eggplant before cooking, but I always do so. I find it absorbs less oil when cooking, which is always a good thing!
Just for a bit of fun, I built a stack with the eggplant and the lentils, on a bed of greens. I used three slices out of a medium-size eggplant, alternating them with the lentils and a bit of Greek-style yogurt. It made for a tasty, filling and healthy lunch, with all kinds of interesting layers! Fresh, peppery arugula; fried eggplant, crisp on the outside and silken inside; soft, earthy lentils with the crunch of walnuts; and cool mint and yogurt.

And finally, here are some of the fruits of my labor - my first tomato of the season, grown painstakingly from seed. I've been watching eagerly as it went from bud to flower to fruit, slowly fattening itself up on the vine, shiny and green at first, then blushing delicately, before turning into this ripe and juicy summer treat. The serrano pepper plants valiantly fought back a slug attack to produce these - and my curries have had more zing ever since!

Eggplant and lentil stack (Serves 1, but can be scaled up easily)
3 1/2" thick slices from a medium-sized eggplant, salted
2 handfuls french green lentils, rinsed (or other lentils of choice)
1 green onion, halved lengthwise and sliced
7-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbs walnuts, chopped and toasted
1 cup water or vegetable stock
Extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Greek-style yogurt and arugula leaves, to serve
Dressing: 1 1/2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tsp walnut oil, 2 tsp fresh lemon juice, 3-4 mint leaves, chopped fine, 1 tiny clove garlic, mashed to a paste with some salt
Drizzle a pan with olive oil, toss in the green onions, cherry tomatoes and lentils. Saute for a minute, then add the stock or water and bring to a boil. Simmer until the lentils are soft and the liquid is absorbed.
While the lentils are cooking, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl. Season to taste, add the warm lentils and the walnuts and toss well. Leave for a few minutes to absorb the dressing, while you pan-fry the eggplant slices in a little olive oil, about 2 minutes on each side.
To serve, pile some arugula (or any other salad green of choice) on a plate. Place a slice of eggplant in the center, top with some of the lentils and a dollop of yogurt. Build a stack with the rest of the eggplant and lentils, scattering the remaining lentils around the plate. Top with a dollop of yogurt and a sprig of mint, and some of the sliced green onion tops, if using.