July 17, 2012
Lentils with Broiled Eggplant and a Mild Allergy
I once read that when you have a food allergy, you naturally develop an aversion to either the smell or taste of that food so you don't endanger yourself by eating it. Whether this is true or not I have no idea, but I like the thoughts of such an instinctive, natural defense mechanism, so I'm gonna go with it.
These days it seems like everyone has a food allergy or sensitivity. Although, I know that many are serious and not to be taken lightly, I think I know a few people who use the term allergic as a synonym for dislike. Like my brother - he had a pretty bad bout of food poisoning after eating a bowl of mussels one night while we were on family vacay about 13 years ago. To this day, he says he's allergic to them. But, he's not. Understandably traumatized after that night, he just doesn't like them, but he's not allergic. I mean, I don't go around telling people I'm allergic to mayo, although, it has been tempting.
Considering how life-changing and serious some food allergies can be, I always consider myself pretty lucky to have none. For me, a life without oysters or nuts or wheat or dairy would be a very different life indeed. I once knew a girl who was allergic to chocolate. Tragic.
I say that I have no food allergies, because I have always thought this to be the case. When I think allergic reaction, I think big, dangerous reaction - hives, swollen throat, extreme nausea. But, recently I've had some revelations. Ever since I was little, I get this slightly itchy tingling sensation in the back of my tongue and throat when I eat eggplant. For a long time, I just thought this was standard - in my 10 year old brain, everyone got an itchy throat when they ate eggplant. But, since I adore eggplant in all forms, I always ignored the itching.
Not too long ago, I was chatting with a friend and she told me that the itchy throat was a sign of an allergy and that, if I'm not careful, it could get worse - little by little, every time I eat eggplant.
Heart be still. How could my body betray me like this? Instead of developing a natural aversion to eggplants to protect me, I am, instead, attracted to them? Sabotage.
As a member of the Nightshade family of plants, kin to peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes, eggplants produce toxins to ward off critters that want to eat them. Apparently, that also includes me.
Unless my body is just lacking in the natural instincts department, I guess I debunked my own allergy self-defense theory, because, as you can tell by the title of this post, I have not quit eggplant. I'm no MD, but as far as I can tell the itching has never gotten any worse, and I happily enjoyed this lentil and eggplant dish with no complications, so I'm not too worried about it.
Yotam Ottolenghi's, Plenty, is a feast for the senses and it's where I got this recipe. The cookbook is, as it says on the cover, filled with vibrant photos of veggie dishes, not one of which I would turn down. Plus, Ottolenghi, like me, is not a vegetarian, but clearly has a mountain of respect for veggies - enough that he wrote a whole vegetarian column and cookbook. If you don't own it already, I suggest you buy it soon. If you're not convinced, you need only lift it from the shelf in your bookstore and start flipping through the pages - you will be at the register, book in hand, before you can say Ottolenghi.
Lentils with Broiled Eggplant
~Recipe slightly adapted, but inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's, Plenty
2 medium eggplants
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and black pepper
1 cup Puy lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1/2 white onion
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 vine ripened tomatoes, diced
1 pinch brown sugar
1 Tbsp each roughly chopped parsley, cilantro and dill
2 Tbsp natural Greek yogurt
Combine the lentils, bay leaf, onion, garlic in a small pot. Add enough water so that the lentils are covered by 3 inches or so. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer, for 20-25 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked. Drain and discard the bay, onion and garlic. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 1/2 Tbsp of vinegar, salt and pepper and stir to mix well. Set aside.
As the lentils cook, you need to 'burn' the eggplants one of two ways. The first is to place the eggplants directly over two medium flames, roasting and turning with tongs for 12-15 minutes, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt. The other option is to pierce the eggplants with a knife in a few places and place them on a foil lined baking tray directly under a hot broiler, turning them a few times, until they are similarly charred and soft and the skin is burnt and even broken.
Remove the eggplants form the heat.
Heat the oven to 275ºF
Cut the eggplants in half, lengthwise, and use a spoon to scoop the flesh into a colander or sieve.
Leave to drain for 10-15 minutes and then season with salt, pepper and 1/2 Tbsp of red wine vinegar.
Dice the tomatoes and sprinkle with the brown sugar, 1 Tbsp oil, and a pinch of salt. Spread in an ovenproof dish and cook for about 15 minutes.
Add the roasted tomatoes to the lentils and chopped herbs. Fold with a wooden spoon to gently mix. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Spoon lentils into the center of the plate.
Use a tongs or fork to add a layer of eggplant.
Top with a spoonful of yogurt and an extra sprinkling of herbs.