Sunday, October 16, 2011

Brazilian eggplant ratatouille

Recently, a local farm stand had Brazilian eggplants. These were a completely new discovery for me, so much so that I had absolutely no idea what they were when I first saw them. As the photograph below illustrates, they are a beautiful red vegetable, not much larger than an egg (at first, I thought they were some kind of pepper). Someone at the farm stand who was familiar with them told me that they were milder than regular eggplants, and they worked very well in ratatouille.

None of my hardcopy culinary references had anything to say about Brazilian eggplants, and a brief Internet search didn’t really turn up a lot, either, although one “near miss” actually worked out extremely well. This was the recipe for “eggplant and tomato salad” described in Rea Frey's blog Clean Convenient Cuisine.  Her January 14, 2011 post describes the Brazilian-themed Texas de Brazil restaurant chain that grew out of a restaurant in Brazil, formed a U.S. partnership in Dallas, and now has a number of other U.S. locations, including one in Chicago. The post gives a recipe that calls for one large regular eggplant, but we prepared a variation using five Brazilian eggplants instead. We also added some shallots and modified the spices slighlty, replacing the regular paprika in the original recipe with Szeged Hungarian hot paprika. I call the end result ratatouille here because it seems consistent with the definition of this classic French dish given in Sharon Tyler Herbst's Food Lover's Companion:

“A popular dish from the French region of Provence that combines eggplant, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, garlic and herbs – all simmered in olive oil.”

She also notes that “the vegetables can vary according to the cook,” and this recipe does that, basically omitting the zucchini and bell peppers. The result was delicious and provided an excellent accompaniment to a three-egg omelet made with Irish bacon, sautéed baby bok choy, and grated Fontina cheese. We served it with a Smoking Loon Chardonnay and it made a fabulous dinner.


- 5 Brazilian eggplants (approximately one pound in total)

- 1 15 ounce can whole tomatoes

- 1 large shallot, chopped

- 4 garlic cloves, chopped

- 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

- 1 tablespoon Hungarian hot paprika

- 1 tablespoon ground cumin

- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

- kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste


- Cut the Brazilian eggplants into cubes, about one inch, and let it rest in a colander for 30 minutes (this is a suggestion given in Rea Frey's post, from Evandro Caregnato, Culinary Director of Texas de Brazil, who notes that it improves the taste of the dish by eliminating some of the eggplant's bitter liquids).

- Heat the olive oil in a large pan and cook the shallots until they are translucent. Then add the garlic and cook until it is soft.

- Chop the whole tomatoes in large pieces and mix them, along with their liquid, into the pan with the shallots and garlic. Add the eggplant cubes, cilantro, Hungarian paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, ground black pepper and kosher salt.

- Cover and simmer 20 to 30 minutes, until the eggplant is soft, checking periodically and adding water if necessary to keep the vegetables from burning.