This dish was inspired by a fairly inebriated late dinner at State Bird Provisions here in San Francisco. Full disclosure, I don’t really remember the specifics of the dish there, but I do recall commenting on how the richness of the eggplant and sauce was nicely offset by the bright acidic kick of a pickled veggie, and to that end, I wanted to do something similar.
While it’s not fashionable to say, I think the real star of this dish is the habanero dill aioli. I love this stuff and put it on everything from breadsticks to sandwiches to veggies (haven’t tried it on artichokes yet, but am excited by the prospect as I write this). If you can’t find dried habaneros (which I picked up at the SF Farmers Market along with the beans and tomatoes detailed here), the chili flakes of your choice should do just fine. That’s the beauty of aioli. An egg yolk, a clove of garlic, and some oil and you’re ready to start building flavors for a multitude of applications.
Habanero Dill Aioli
1 large egg yolk
1 dried habanero
1 teaspoon fresh dill finely chopped
1 clove of garlic finely minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh dill + bits for garnish
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Separate the yolk from the white. My personal preference is to use my hands, but if you’re a shell enthusiast or have a preferred gadget, please feel free to do your thang. It makes no difference. In a small bowl (I use Pyrex Custard Cups for everything), whisk together the yolk, habanero, dill, garlic, salt, and pepper. Make a small ‘nest’ around the bottom of the cup with a damp kitchen towel to hold the bowl securely in place. As you whisk, very slowly drizzle in the oil a few drops at a time. Make sure all the oil is incorporated into the emulsion before adding more. Once the aioli starts to come together you can drizzle a bit more quickly, however this is largely a feel thing, and I tend to go very slowly. Set aside.
Fried Baby Eggplant
3 baby eggplants
1 cup rice flour
Cut the eggplant into 1/4″ slices and sprinkle liberally with salt. Let the salt work for 15 minutes or so. Add about 1/4-inch blended oil to a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Heat the oil to 360 deg F. Once the oil is heated, dredge the eggplant in the rice flour and fry about 2 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Drain the eggplant on a cooling rack (a paper towel lined plate will work in a pinch).
1 large shallot
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch (~1/3 teaspoon) Kosher salt
As I recently got a VacMaster VP112 chamber vacuum, I chose to quick pickle the shallots under vacuum by simply adding everything to a small Pyrex custard cup, covering with plastic wrap, and pulling a vacuum. I realize that the cost of one of these things (~$560 to your door from WEBstaurant.com) is a bit for some to swallow, but if you geek out on food and technology, you’ll be sold the first time you watch atmospheric pressure refill the chamber crushing the bag into every crevase of it’s sealed contents. It’s VERY cool.
For those of you who are less prone to buy superflous kitchen tech, simply slice the shallot thin and place in a small bowl. Sprinkle on sugar and salt. Add vinegar and 1/2 cup of hot water. Allow to sit and cool for about 30 minutes.
I’m thinking that I should add some pickled mustard seeds to this dish as they’re a fantastic component from both a flavor and visual perspective. That said, the dish is great without them. I finished by putting down a spoonful of the aioli, topping with eggplant slices, pickled shallots, and a little bit of fresh dill.