Wow, I am so excited to enter the world of Paper Chef! (link at Tomatilla! on my sidebar). This friendly little competition among food bloggers is just the type of thing to get me through the busy harvest season and the damp winter that follows. This is how it (usually) works: once a month on a Friday, 3 ingredients are revealed and by the following Wednesday you must incorporate those ingredients into a dish and then blog it. (This will also give me a much-needed kick in the ass to keep my blog current.)
This month's ingredients are: eggplant, chili peppers, smoked swordfish (or other smoked fish if you can't obtain smoked swordfish, or other smoked food if you can't hang with seafood), and this week a fourth ingredient was added: something you already have in your house. This month's theme was "Home."
To me, home-style foods are usually of the soup, chowder, or stew variety. This is also poor folks' food, which is what I grew up eating. As an adult, I've found ways to class-up the food my mom prepared while attempting to make ends meet. I still think the reason Scott proposed to me is that he could taste the home-made chicken stock in my corn chowder (he denies this, but I believe the old adage holds true).
And so, for my inaugural entry into Paper Chef, I present to you:
Ingredients (broken out into steps of prep):
1 medium-sized Asian eggplant*, mandolined or sliced very thin (on the bias)
2 c chopped fresh tomatoes (canned would work in a pinch if drained)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced*
3 small, mild green chilis such as fresh pepperoncini*
1 small onion, diced
1 shallot, minced (about 3 tbsp)
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
3" piece of ginger (the younger the better), julienned
1/2 c chopped baby haricots verts (or other tender green bean)
1 tsp coriander seed
1/2 tsp caraway seed
1/2 tsp cumin seed
1/4 tsp garam masala
coupla fat pinches kosher salt
6 or 7 cracks pepper
5 c fumet or fish stock*
3 or 4 squirts fish sauce (nam pla)
1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
1 cup chopped fresh basil (reserve a few sprigs for garnish)
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro, stems and all (reserve a few sprigs for garnish)
1/2 tsp red chili flake (I like the Korean kind, which is a little sweeter)
juice and zest from half a lime
1 tin (3.66 oz) smoked mussels*, drained
1 lb mild white fish fillets (such as halibut, flounder, tilapia, etc.), cut into bite-sized cubes
8 baby octopus or squid, cleaned, tentacles left whole and bodies cut into bite-sized pieces
12 or 15 medium-sized prawns (~8 oz), peeled and deveined with tails intact
*These are the key ingredients of this week. For the "something you already have", I used fumet (see the "We Went to the Beach and Shit" post for the story of my shitload of fumet).
Heat oven to 350F. Spread thinly-sliced eggplant in a single layer on two lightly-oiled cookie sheets (or on a silpat on top of the cookie sheet). Spread tomatoes into glass or ceramic baking dish in an even layer. Roast eggplant for 15 minutes until browned and a bit crispy. Peel eggplant off while still hot and set aside. Roast toms for an additional 15 minutes (30 minutes total) until slightly browned, sticky and slumpy. You can kick the heat up a bit after the eggplant comes out if you want to expedite this step.
In a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the jalapenos, pepperoncini, onions, shallots, garlic, ginger and haricots verts for 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon (important utensil for home cooking). While this is happening, heat a small pan over medium heat and toast the coriander, caraway and cumin seed until fragrant. Remove from heat and grind in mortar and pestle or spice grinder until you get a fine powder. Add ground spices and garam masala to sauteeing veg, and add salt and pepper.
When veg is beginning to get a little golden, add fumet, fish sauce and coconut milk. Drop heat to medium-low and stir. Add basil, coriander, chili flake and the lime zest/juice. Simmer for like 10 minutes. Add the eggplant and tomatoes, smoked mussels and the fish, and simmer another 10 minutes or so, until the veg is al dente and the fish is looking opaque. Avoid stirring too much here so you don't break up the fish. Add the octopus and prawns, and turn off the heat. The latent heat will cook the octopus and prawns without overdoing it.
Ladle into warm bowls and top with sprigs of basil and cilantro (or chop the sprigs up and sprinkle on top). Serve with crusty baguette (not as weird as you'd think; since Vietnam was colonized by the French they learned some nice baking skills from them). Enjoy with a nice Pinot Gris (we have great ones in Oregon), which compliments the seafood and cuts the spiciness.