I have a section in the Mama Ía blog called IDIOSYNCRASIES (click here). It is there that I talk about certain aspects of Spanish life and culture that are different from those of the United States, and that somehow have caught my attention. Some of those aspects merit a whole section or post about them, like the way we celebrate Holy Week (check here if you’re curious, or to learn more about it). But some others are small details, modest idiosyncrasies that one might overlook, and that in general, don’t warrant a whole post about them. That is the case with today’s recipe and post.
One of the things that always made me smile, and sometimes still does, is the fact that an entrée, in the United States, will come with a minimum (or should I say an average) of two sides. And not just any sides: the colors have to be different, and in general complement each other. That is, you wouldn’t serve sides of cauliflower and mashed potatoes together —two whites, a definite no-no. I’ve never truly stopped to think why, in Spain, generally you would serve your entrée with one side, at least when cooking at home (things might be a bit different nowadays at restaurants, with the new creative, imaginative cuisine, where sides are really not sides, but the different elements of a dish are mounted on each other, and the plate becomes a work of art). As I was saying, I never really thought about the why, until I realized that, in Spain, we don’t call the main dish of a meal the “entrée”, but el segundo plato, the second course, that is, the one that comes after el primer plato, the first course. So the first course, it being a soup, or a salad, or a vegetable dish, or a rice dish, most usually served in a “plato hondo”, a deep dish, could be considered that extra side that we will be missing when the second course comes along. That’s my explanation, at least, and I’ll go with it.
Having said all that, today’s recipe, oven baked eggplant with pimentón, is one of those side dishes that my mom always prepared alongside a protein (either fish or meat), and together with another side, sliced baked potatoes—most likely because they were prepared and cooked in a similar way, so it was easy to make them together. I will stick to my story, though, by mentioning that the slices of oven baked eggplant with pimentón were usually eaten by themselves, so they would “almost” take the place of the primer plato, the first course.
Eggplant is one of “those” vegetables, isn’t it? A little bit intimidating for some to cook. Others will very straight-face tell you they don’t like it. However, like with everything else, an “I don’t like it” can turn into a “this is actually very good” depending on how it’s prepared. My husband didn’t like eggplants, until he tried them cooked this way. He’s also had them in other dishes like escalivada or esgarraet (Spanish dishes typical of Valencia, Catalonia, Murcia and Aragón, which are closely related to ratatouille), and he loves them. But if you ask him out of context if he likes eggplant, he’ll still say no. Go figure!
This recipe is easy to make, and if you’re still skeptic about eggplants, I guarantee you’ll change your mind about them when you try them cooked this way.
Speaking of idiosyncrasies, Holy Week processions, Procesiones de Semana Santa, have been happening in Spain since Palm Sunday, a few days ago, with their climax on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Even though the country has become more secular in recent years, I miss the devotion and the emotion expressed during the processions and in all other events related to Holy Week, where the most deep sentiments and devotion flourish openly. If you’d like to know more about Lent and Holy Week in Spain, the celebrations and the food typical of this week, as well as the meaning of some of the elements of the outfits and the processions themselves, go to the LENT and HOLY WEEK page, in the IDIOSYNCRASIES section, under the FUNDAMENTALS tab, or click here.
On another topic, I’m still reminiscing about the wonderful week we just spent in Miami, and trying to soak up the sun and feeble spring temperatures we’re enjoying in Fort Wayne. Stay tuned for my next post, and the wonderful recipe I’m preparing!
OVEN BAKED EGGPLANT WITH PIMENTÓN
Berenjenas al Horno
1 large eggplant
6 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sweet pimentón de la Vera (or Spanish paprika)
1 tsp kosher or flaky sea salt
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Peel and chop the garlic cloves. Slice the eggplant transversally into 4 or 5 1/2-inch-thick slices (depending on the size of the eggplant), and place them side to side on an oven tray covered with parchment paper. With a paring knife, cut slots about 1/4-inch deep into the eggplant slices, and about 1/3-inch apart. Repeat the slots in a perpendicular manner, forming a grid.
Spread the garlic, pressing slightly so some of the pieces get inside of the slots. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt, pimentón de la Vera and oregano. Drizzle with the olive oil and place in the oven.
Bake for about 30 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Serve as a light lunch, alongside slices of toasted bread (the eggplants are spreadable), or as a side dish.
(*) Holy Week photos by Enrique Moscardó