I’ve discovered I really enjoy Spanish food. Usually when we think of Spanish food here in the US…well, first we think of Mexican food until someone else reminds us that no, Spain is on a different continent and they’re really not the same. Fair enough. Then we think of things like paella and sangria, which are of course notable–indeed, even mighty–dishes in their own right (though me + paella = death by allergy), but Spain is more than two dishes and some romanticized, gauzy image of bullfights and naps popularized by Ernest Hemingway. Spanish food is as diverse at the many regions of Spain. But there are common tendencies in Spanish cooking and if you want to give me a dish that involves smoked paprika and sherry vinegar and peppers and tons and tons of garlic and call it Spanish, I won’t complain.
Thanks to an afternoon spent in a Baltimore tapas restaurant, that’s exactly what I did.
Their eggplant was just. Too. Good. So even though I was home and cooking not even 24 hours after eating tapas and you might think enough is enough and how many potato and eggplant dishes can one girl dine on in two days’ time, I was busy trying to reverse engineer what I ate. With delicious results. Here’s what I used:
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1 medium onion
- tons and tons of garlic (I think I used 6 or 7 cloves for this)
- 2 peppers, you can decide how hot you want the dish to be
- 1 pound of potatoes, either very small so they can be thrown in whole or cut into bite-sized chunks
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, and it can be smoked hot paprika if you’re feeling unstoppable
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- water or broth to achieve desired consistency
- salt & pepper to taste
Chop the eggplant into manageable chunks. Put it into a nice hot pan and start it cooking right away. Eggplant has that…I’m not quite sure if quality is the right word…where it can become a luscious piece of silken deliciousness wrapped in a dream if it’s cooked thoroughly. BUT! If it’s not well cooked then it’s like nature’s chewing gum made out of chalk, vegetable gristle and woe. So get it going first and let it cook and cook and cook. If it starts to kind of break down and become a sauce (but it won’t because you won’t be cooking it THAT long but even so, if it does), so what? At least you’ll know it’s cooked through, and it will wrap the rest of the dish in love. Anyway. Eggplant. Some olive oil. In the pan. GO!
Let this cook for a few minutes to start getting nice and brown and then? Things go in. Add onions, peppers (I went semi-spicy; the cubanelle I used was, of course, totally mild but the Hungarian wax pepper had quite a lovely kick. Use whatever kind of pepper you’d like), and garlic, and let them saute together for a few minutes. Then add thyme, bay leaves, paprika and turmeric, give them a good stir and let them cook in for another minute or two.
If you decide you want to add some kind of crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne to the mix (because hot food is your friend) you can add it here too. Or not, it’s your decision. Once it all starts to cook together for a few minutes at medium heat, you’ll probably start to notice crusty brown bits of caramelized food and spices (a/k/a the “fond“) adhering to the bottom of your pan. This is a good thing, but in order for that goodness to become reality you need to deglaze. This, is a foodie (and concise) way of saying, “you want to pull all that yummy stuff off the bottom of your pan and re-incorporate it into your food before it all burns”. Which is precisely what you’ll do, by pushing the contents of the pan slightly off to one corner, thereby exposing the fond, and pouring your sherry vinegar onto it. It will steam and make a hideous hissing sound, but give it a stir and get whatever’s stuck on the pan back in your food where it belongs. It won’t take more than a minute. Then add the can of diced tomatoes, the potatoes, and enough broth and/or water to bring the liquid level high enough to make you feel confident it will cook your potatoes. (Of course, you can always parboil or steam the potatoes prior to adding them to the pan, but that just adds an extra dish when it’s not really necessary so…why bother?)
Cover for twenty minutes or a half-hour or so and cook at a medium-high heat, until the potatoes are cooked through and the sauce has thickened to the consistency you’d like. Once everything is cooked through, it’s ready to eat. Yes, it really is that simple.
We ate this with roasted beets and goat cheese, sauteed beet greens and kale (recipe coming) and a crisp green salad. It? Rocked.