Nature is so generous to us this time of year that, presented with such an abundant bounty, I often find myself facing the same dilemma. Do I savor this piece of fruit or vegetable immediately, teeming with all the goodness and flavor of summer, or do I save it instead to cook with? If I practice a little restraint and go with the latter, I’m then left with another dilemma: how do I make the absolute best use of it?
Do I stir-fry my Romano beans—cast in shades of purple, yellow, and green—or throw them into a light, cold pasta salad? Do I cook this sweet corn down into a fresh polenta or grill and baste it with a cilantro-lime butter? Japanese and graffiti eggplant sit on my counter waiting for me to decide whether I grill, pan-fry, or roast them. Or how about that summer squash? Oh, wait, maybe this zucchini instead? Aromatic verdant herbs waiting to be pureed into pestos, or roughly chopped into a hearty grain salad. And then there are tomatoes, so redolent of the fleeting season. Most of the time I’m left craving nothing more than a tomato or BLT sandwich, so sublime in their simplicity. That is, until I remember my beloved caprese salad, dressed up with prosciutto and sweet juicy peaches. And speaking of peaches, don’t get me started on all the endless pies and galettes to be made, a sweet and cozy home for the season’s succulent fruit. Honestly. What does a person do in the midst of all these options? You stop dilly-dallying and you get cooking, that’s what!
The Georgians, with their own ever-giving lands, must have found themselves in the same predicament. Vegetables make up the grand majority of their culinary repertoire—not only out of an overwhelming abundance, but also because religious prescriptions found the Georgians abstaining (up to six months of the year!) from meat, eggs, and dairy products. Never ones to not eat well, some of their most tempting recipes have been devised out of vegetables and grains to enrich their diets and, subsequently, lives. Michael Pollan would be proud.
To celebrate the season’s harvest, these next few posts will be dedicated to all things green and and garden-fresh. Georgians, like Mediterranean cultures, love eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, as well as green beans, potatoes and peppers. To kick off this vegetable-fest, I offer you a recipe for fried eggplant rolls or, as a friend once called them, “crack rolls”—they’re that good. Eggplant slices are pan-fried and then smeared with a cilantro aioli spiced with blue fenugreek and coriander. Roll them up and they’re ready for the eating. Bet you can’t have just one ;)
Fried Eggplant Rolls - Nigvziani Badrijani
Although this dish is traditionally stuffed with a spiced walnut paste, my mother opts for mayonnaise instead of walnuts. It is just as tasty. This dish is served as one of many cold dishes or appetizers as part of the Georgian feast. You can make it a few days in advance.
2 large eggplants
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon khmeli suneli (or 1/4 teaspoon blue fenugreek and 1/4 teaspoon coriander)
salt and pepper to taste
sunflower or canola oil
cilantro sprigs or pomegranate seeds, as garnish
- Stem the eggplants, peel them but leaving some skin (you want alternating stripes), and cut them lengthwise in 1/2-inch slices. Place them in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the aioli. In a food processor, finely chop the garlic with the cilantro. Add mayonnaise and spices. Puree and add a bit of water if aioli seems to be too thick. Season to taste.
- In a large skillet heat, heat a few tablespoons over medium heat. Place some eggplant slices in the hot oil, making sure not to crowd the pan. On medium-low heat, sauté both sides until they are soft and lightly browned. Remove the eggplant slices from the oil and drain on a piece of paper towel. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, adding oil as needed.
- Once cooled, spread each slice generously with the aioli. Roll up. Place the eggplant on a dish and serve at room temperature, garnished with cilantro or pomegranate seeds. Can be made up to 2 to 3 days in advance.