Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Summer Lunch: Eggplant Salad and Apricot Wheat Ale


Hot summer weekends call for quick, cool, tangy lunches. Something not too heavy, something that can be made ahead, something that can be taken on a picnic. Sure, you can make tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, potato salad (and all those recipes' many permutations), but isn't it time for something new?

Today we're making a cold eggplant salad, and, while we're at it, a profile of our latest homebrewed beer, just placed on tap a week ago. Let's get started.

This recipe works best with two tall, slim Japanese eggplants (seen below), although 1 standard, bell shaped Italian eggplant can be used as well.*

*(Note: Eggplant pictured is not actual eggplant used. Our photo budget is not large enough for dramatic studio lighting and spotless white backdrops.)

Take your eggplant and slice it into sticks roughly six inches long, and about an inch wide. You'll need to fit them into a bamboo steamer (shown below). They run about ten dollars in Chinatown, and are well worth the investment. Line each shelf of the steamer with lettuce leaves or wax paper, and place the eggplant inside in single layers. Stack the steamer back up, and place over a pot of boiling, lightly salted water.

You'll want to steam the eggplant until it's soft, but not mushy. This should take about eight minutes for Japanese eggplant, and about twelve for your standard Italian model (as always, your cooking times may vary). Here's the eggplant after the ol' steam bath.

At this point, we have to make the dressing. As you recall, the whole point of this is to be a cold salad, so transfer the slices into a bowl, and throw it into the freezer while you work on the rest of the recipe. By the time you're all done, the eggplant should be down to at least room temperature.

ASo, dressing time. Here are your ingredients. I'd click on this photo for the large version, so that you can see the labels better. It'll help you recognize what you're looking for when you go to the store. Did you know that all the photos on Burning Pasta can be blown up? We provide recipes and computer background images for you. Awesome, I know.

So, left to right: (Angostura) aromatic bitters, sesame oil, chili garlic oil, (Chinkiang) black vinegar, and, finally, Shaoxing cooking wine. Everything but the bitters should be available at any decently stocked Chinatown grocery, and those (a standard ingredient for countless cocktails) can be found at the liquor store or a well-stocked supermarket. You'll see lots of varieties of black vinegar and red cooking wine. Be calm, and pick one of each out. Any of them will do. Honestly. And don't complain about the trip downtown! You need to go get the bamboo steamer anyway.

So, for the proportions, let's go to the dressing's recipe.


2 Tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
3 Tablespoons Chinkiang Black Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Water
1/2 teaspoon Chili Garlic oil (or more, but be careful, it gets spicy fast!)
1/2 teaspoon Sesame Oil
10 shakes of Angostura Aromatic Bitters
A pinch of two of granulated sugar (to taste)

Whisk everything together.

By now, your eggplant should be relatively cool. Take the bowl from the freezer and drain off any accumulated water (the eggplant will let off some water in the cooling process). Pour your marinade into the bowl. After that, take two healthy looking scallions, chop them up, and mix them in gently with your fingers, being careful to not turn the eggplant to mush.

This is one of those recipes that gets better the longer it sits. Feel free to eat right away, or make it the day before. The final product:

You'll find that this salad has a refreshing sourness from the vinegar, a little kick from the chili oil, and a refreshing overtone of orange zest from the bitters. It's a unique, refreshing flavor that will keep your guests' tongues guessing.


Wait! You didn't forget about the beer, did you? I've been a dedicated homebrewer for about five years now, and I've recently introduced the Pasta Burner to the craft. So far, she's had a lot of fun. I'm not going to go into the whole brewing process here -- that's a whole post in itself -- but I thought I'd share with you her first brew, an Apricot Wheat Ale. Some pictures of it, poured fresh from our tap, are below:

It's a great summer tipple, tart, fruity, with a dry, take-another-sip finish. Not bad for a first-timer, eh? And, yes, it goes great with the eggplant salad.

Well, that's about it. Keep cool out there, and look for our next post soon. Instead of our usual music finale, here's a little cartoon entertainment to help you beat the heat:

Walt Disney -- "Alice's Egg Plant," 1925:


  1. apricot ale sounds awesome. i've had an apricot aperitif, but it was really strong. i imagine the ale is much smoother.

  2. I'd love to try the apricot ale at one of the future potlucks! i've never tried aromatic bitters in cooking, what's that like?


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