Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wanted: Eggplant Eggheads

I used to live within walking distance of a P.F. Changs, a wonderful establishment that I affectionately refer to as "Changer." I love Changer. Love it. Love the food so much that I cannot even tell you if it is a Diet Coke/Diet Pepsi restaurant. Love it even though it is loud and crowded at dinnertime. Love it even though the hostesses dress as if they are in an metropolitan hotspot and not a nationwide chain.

Love Changer even though I have ordered the same entree every single time (of many times) I have eaten there or hoofed it with some carry out: spicy ground chicken and eggplant.

I let my companions pick the apps. I tolerate the special-sauce making tutorial. I choose brown rice. When my dish comes, I eat every single bite.

On a few unfortunate occasions, I have dined at Changer with persons who consider Changer a family-style restaurant (?!). I have ordered spicy ground chicken and eggplant even when the rest of my dining companions seems skeptical and disappointed. Don't like it? Fine. I'll keep my plate to myself and, by the way, I never asked to share yours.

Sometime around 2000, I took a notion that I could conjure up some spicy ground chicken and eggplant in my very own kitchen. I don't recall my motivation ... penny-saving? ego? delusion? I'm sure there are home cooks who can replicate restaurant dishes at home, but not MEP circa 2000. I remember eggplant, garlic, cooking spray, a skillet and the worst, bitterest pile of crap ever.

And, even though I love eggplant (with and without spicy ground chicken), I have never attempted to prepare it at home again.

On Sunday, I bought two eggplants.

On Monday, I did a google search and discovered that there are many Changer replica recipes to be found online. I also determined that I did not have the ingredients to make any of them and wouldn't be getting them before the eggplants rotted. I will save the "homage to Changer" meal for another week.

Today, I searched online for all kinds of eggplant recipes. I felt overwhelmed and could not find enough reviews of said recipes to feel comfortable going forward.

I'm turning to all of you. Tell me how to prepare my eggplants. I don't want to use my grill or grill pan. I don't want to bread or fry anything. I don't want to use a whole lot of cheese. I don't want to do a lot of work. Basically, please give me some foolproof directions for roasting some eggplant that will be delicious, if simple. You can assume some basic pantry staples like olive oil, various vinegars, and garlic.

Please, tell me how to prepare eggplant that will not end up tasting like a bitter pile of crap.


What are you cooking up these days? Have you ever successfully recreated a restaurant favorite? Have you tried a new veggie lately? Inspire me!

*I also used to live within walking distance of the World's Greatest Don Pablos, but that queso palace deserves its own post someday.


E... said...

Oh, oh, Don's. How I yearn for you, in all your crappy mexican ways.
And I will wholeheartedly agree with your love of the Changer. I may even start referring to it as such. I do enjoy the eggplant, but have to make a plug for the Dan Dan noodles and the orange chicken as well.
I am coming up short on creative eggplant ideas for you. It's a far less satisfying vegetable than you'd think, given how great it looks in the store. I have had some success with simply roasting it. Chunk it up, stick it in a baking dish of some sort, probably with some onions and peppers if you have them, olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake at 450 or so for 15-20 minutes. Probably use more salt than you think you need. That would be for a side dish. For more of a main dish:
You could try eggplant parm. Slice it thinnish, dip it in some egg, then in some bread crumbs mixed with parmesan cheese and maybe parsley, saute it in a pan, until it's browned a little, top it with some tomato sauce and some mozzarella, throw it in the oven until the cheese melts.

E... said...

Sorry, missed your line about not wanting to bread or fry anything. When you roast it, try to leave out the pieces with a lot of seeds.

Nap Warden said...

Funny you should ask...I recreated the Enchiladas Rojas from Frontera Grill (Rick Bayless) Not as good...but pretty good:P

Actchy said...

Agree with E... on the roasting. Make sure you don't crowd the pan it's in, or it will steam and be yucky.

I have never been to a Changer, but have always put it into the same category as the one restaurant I once called for Chineese take-out only to discover that the person answering the phone had an American accent. As that had never happened to me before, I promptly hung up. Perhaps I ought to reconsider?

CaraBee said...

I adore PF Changs, which will henceforth be known as Changer (I assume that is pronounced Chang-er?) One just opened up really close to us and I've been there several times already. I do not, however, have a signature dish there yet. I'm sorry to say I am not much for eggplant, although I think they're delightful looking and I enjoying saying the word. (Reminds me of a Raisin Bran Crunch commercial from a hundred years ago.)

Also, I haven't eaten a home cooked meal in almost a week but I have to tonight and I feel like I'm waking up from a coma. Vega-what?

CJR said...

Use your flavor injector to put in garlic cloves before roasting!

msh said...

i've been making lots and lots of yummy seafood lately, so if you're looking for some recipes there, call on me. also made a tomato-watermelon salad (inspired by the food network) and loved it. but i'm sad to say, i'm not a fan of eggplant, so i've got nothing for you.

cake said...

i am probably too late for this one. but, i want you to love cooking eggplant, so i am going to have to type up some of my many favorites and send them to you.

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