This casserole is a celebration of vegetables! Look at the list of ingredients. Their variety is stunning! That’s why the complexity of this dish flavors conquers the taste buds of vegetarians and carnivores alike. Just like any other layered dish, benefits from being cooked in advance, set in a refrigerator for a few hours and reheated portioned right before serving. It helps to develop flavors and keep colorful layers presentable.
This recipe is an adaptation of southern Turkish style kebab, prepared in the oven. Eggplants are cooked twice — either grilled or fried first, and then baked with meat in a tomato and pepper sauce — to concentrate flavor. My version of Patlican Kebabi doesn’t look the same as Turkish, but the idea of vertical rolls allows to use large Italian eggplants we mostly have available in Central Texas.
Charring eggplants on grill, open fire, under the broil/salamander, or inside special kitchen devices (e.g., Bulgarian chushkopek) is known and widely used around the world for a reason. Burning and peeling off skin definitely improves the texture of grilled vegetables, but more than anything we crave for that sweet smokiness added to the eggplant flavor. The beginning and the basics are the same — grill, peel, slice/chop/mash. Sauces, spices, herbs, seeds, nuts, and other added vegetables make the difference, turn grilled eggplants into a dish that belongs to a specific cuisine.
Nothing compares to our childhood food. Our mind recognizes it immediately no matter how old we are and brings back our sweetest memories. This recipe is Elena’s family recipe, from Odessa region. At first, I felt frustrated I don’t know English better to translate her story properly. But then, is it really possible not to loose in translation the beauty of Odessa flavorful way of storytelling?
My first mistake was to buy these tomatoes. I keep assuming everything on Farmers Market should taste good. They looked so beautiful, but the taste had nothing to do with their looks — watery and diluted. The only way to make them more or less enjoyable was to concentrate their flavor by partial dehydration, by making something similar to sun-dried tomatoes. Then I’ve made another mistake — left them in the oven for too long, and they turned into completely dry chips. Using plain Noosa yogurt to reconstitute some of their moisture became a brilliant idea! Alternated layers of dry tomatoes and yogurt created an equilibrium of texture and flavors the next day. It could’ve been mistaken for salami with unusually layered “meat” and “fat”… Or could it?
Eggplants are magical. There are eggplant recipes in almost every cuisine in the world. Eggplants can be transformed into a delicacy by applying almost any cooking method: simmering, steaming, frying, deep-frying, stir-frying, baking, roasting, charring, drying, marinating, fermenting… They can be cooked savory and sweet. Their flavor is very meaty and full of umami. Eggplants ARE magical. Serve them shaped as witches this Halloween!
Pkhali (ფხალი) is a signature Georgian appetizer. Its consistency is similar to pesto and tapenade. Pkhali’s main ingredients are cooked vegetables and walnuts mixed with traditional herbs and spices. If you don’t aim for authenticity, and rather prefer to explore your own vegetables-nuts-herbs-spices variations, play with different nuts and seeds. Use your favorite spice mixes and herbs instead of Utskho Suneli and Khmeli Suneli. You won’t be able to name your dish “pkhali”, but you’ll enjoy it for sure.