February 8, 2012

Roasted Sweet Potato and Eggplant Hash with Toasted Fennel Seeds

After last night, when I revisited a meal I haven't had since law school, which a law school classmate dubbed indian hamburger helper (trader joes frozen biryani rice, with a mashed up veggie burger and some cheddar cheese), tonight I felt compelled to step it up a bit. Of course, I also didn't want to go buy any new ingredients, and I definitely didn't want it to take more than an hour. And so, lone sweet potato (whose mate rotted last week), meet lone eggplant. You should be friends.

Sweet potatoes and eggplants have one important thing in common: they both taste delicious when roasted with a touch of salt and olive oil. That alone would satisfy me for dinner. But it isn't exactly a dish you want to brag to your friends about. Enter garlic, onions, fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper. Chick peas, you're invited too.

According the New York Times, roasting eggplant (as compared to frying or sauteing) is the healthy way to go. Apparently, eggplant will soak up however much oil you cook it with, so roasting is better because it requires less oil. Health aside, roasted eggplant is yummy, and ridiculously easy, so I'm going to stick with it. If you want your eggplant to retain some shape, however, you should roast it until it is about 3/4 done and then do the remainder of your cooking on the stove top.

Also on the subject of eggplants, according to my dad, the smaller the spot of the base of the eggplant, the fewer seeds it has, and the better it is for the eating. He learned this from an old friend he ran into in the veggie aisle at the local market, and then did a controlled experiment, so it must be true! And check out how few seeds this one has!

Like most of the dinners I cook, this one starts with caramelizing an onion. The trick to getting an onion to caramelize (if you don't have an hour and a half to make it happen) is to slice the onion very very thinly, and to cook it for five or ten minutes (on low, stirring occasionally) until the onion starts to wilt before adding any oil. The onion ups the sweetness factor of this meal. I'm a sucker for sweet and hearty savories, but if you want to go in a spicier direction, you could cook the onions for a shorter time or leave them out all together. Or you could sub in sauteed fennel bulb.

Because I only had one relatively small sweet potato, the recipe below only made about three portions. But it could easily be scaled up. Just stick to about 1/4 teaspoon of fennel seed per vegetable you include.

And there you have it, in only an hour, you could be eating this too! The difficulty factor rating below is relatively high only because of the number of steps involved and not because any of the steps are actually difficult!

- Franklin

Roasted Sweet Potato and Eggplant Hash with Toasted Fennel Seeds
Total Time: 1 hour
Sweetness factor: 3; Indulgence factor: 2; Difficulty Factor: 4; Chance I'll Make it Again: 10

1 small sweet potato
8 cloves garlic, whole and peeled
2 tablespoon of olive oil (one for potatoes, one for onions)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 small eggplant
1 sweet onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 (or more) teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 of a can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Preheat the oven to 400. Scrub the sweet potato. Cut off the ends, slice it into four long spears, and then chop the spears into 1/2-wide pieces. Toss the sweet potato in a bowl with the garlic, one tablespoon of olive oil, and sea salt. Spread out on a cookie sheet and baking for about twenty-five minutes. Flip the pieces over about half-way through. Note: how fast they cook depends on how small you cut them. Keep an eye on them as they go.

Get the onion going. Let it saute about ten minutes on low heat with the lid on before adding oil. Add the second tablespoon of olive oil. Start on the eggplant. Cut off the ends of the eggplant. Slice it in half. Rub each half with the oil left over in the bowl from the sweet potatoes. Lay the two halves face down on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven. Let them bake 20-25 minutes (longer if you have a larger eggplant) until the a fork pushes through very easily but the eggplant hasn't yet turned to mush.

Add red pepper flakes to the onions. Toast the fennel seeds. I like to do this is a small saute pan with a little bit of oil, but you could also do this in a toaster oven. Just watch them like a hawk!

Peel the eggplant. The peel should pull off very easily. Just be careful not to burn your fingers! Chop the eggplant into small cubes and add to the onions. Add the fennel. Stir. Let cook for five more minutes. Then add the sweet potatoes, garlic, and chickpeas. Let it all cook together for a few minutes.

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