The first time I had this dish, or rather the inspiration for this dish, berenjena al te rojo, was during dinner service when I was working at Mina. Mai, my fellow stagiaire who was training me in the vegetable section, handed me a leftover piece of eggplant on a small, metal plate, still hot from the broiler, and said, “Here, try this quick.” Turning my back to the customers, who had an unfettered view into the small, open kitchen, I popped the whole thing in my mouth in one swift motion, and a la Action Bronson thought to myself Effff that’s delicious.
When you’re starting out at a restaurant, tasting every dish you’re preparing is obligatory. Otherwise, how could you know how it’s supposed to taste and whether the customers are getting that every time? There are few things I haven’t liked trying in the restaurants where I’ve worked. The only dish that comes to mind is the lightly battered and fried pig saliva glands at Nerua, but even then it was only because I also had to clean a bucket full of them that very same day and couldn’t dissociate the plated dish from their slimy feeling in my hand. Appetizing, amiright?
But there have been many favorites. The artichoke hearts at Nerua that were roasted and injected with an almond praline sauce (think of, like, the best almond butter you ever had, hot and melted). The sweetbreads in buttery caper sauce at Prune. The almond croissant at Bien Cuit, where I did a two-day stage. And at Mina, there were a bunch of highlights – berenjena al te rojo was one of them. The Chef, Alvaro, has traveled extensively in China. His dishes reflect his Basque roots influenced by Chinese ingredients and whatever’s in season and selling at the Mercado de la Ribera, a stone’s throw from Mina.
If you’ve been to the market lately, you know that eggplants are in season. In the northeast of the US of A, they’re in their prime until October, so there are still a few weeks to make all of the baba ganoush and eggplant parm that your heart desires. This dish – roasted eggplant with black tea – will be a strong addition to your eggplant repertoire. Happy autumn, nenes! Cocinamos.
- 5 small eggplants
- 6 grams or 3 individual bags black tea
- * the original called for red tea, but I couldn’t find that in my local market – after some googling, I decided that black tea was the second best, but if anyone knows otherwise, drop a comment plz
- juice of 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + 1 – 2 more for roasting the eggplant
- coarse salt
- Boil three cups of water and steep tea for five minutes (not longer or your tea and eggplants will be bitter) in a large, heat-proof bowl. Let cool slightly.
- Add honey, vinegar, soy sauce, and half of the lime juice to the tea. Taste. Adjust saltiness, tartness, sweetness, to your liking.
- Chop the ends off your eggplants and peel off most of the skin.
- Using a long, sharp poker (who knows what that kitchen tool is called?), poke a couple dozen holes in each eggplant. Add to the large bowl and let them soak for at least an hour.
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Remove eggplants from tea mixture to a plate with paper towl. Cut eggplants in half length-wise. Toss in 1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil.
- Spread eggplant halves in a baking dish, cut-side up. Drop a full pinch of coarse salt on the face of each eggplant half.
- Roast eggplant until crispy and brown on the edges, about 20 minutes.
- Serve with parsley aioli (scroll down for recipe)
- one egg
- 1 clove garlic (raw) or 2 cloves (roasted), chopped.
- handful of parsley, stems removed
- olive or sunflower oil
- salt (to taste)
- Crack the egg into a cylindrical container, trying not to break yolk.
- Slowly pour in oil, covering yolk, plus two fingers above egg. More oil = thicker aioli.
- Mix with hand blender, keeping the blender at bottom of container, moving side to side, not up and down. Blend until mixture thickens to preferred consistency.
- Add garlic and parsley, blend. Salt to taste.