My bedtime reading lately has been a beautifully written book called An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. In it, she describes how to cook intuitively and well using the leftovers and tail ends of one meal to make the next, so ingredients “topple into one another like dominoes.” Conceiving of meals in this way turns what once were discards into opportunities: the bones of a roasted chicken, stems from a bunch of parsley, and discarded ends of celery and onion and carrot make a flavorful stock, and the butt end of a stale loaf of bread adds satisfying heft to the French onion soup you will make with it.
I haven’t even finished the book yet, but it has already changed the way I work in my own kitchen. Rather than cooking something with only one purpose in mind for it, I have started looking at each component of a meal as a building block in many potential dishes, one morphing into another over the course of the week. I spend less, waste less, and savor more variety.
One of my favorite Georgian finger foods is badrijani nigvzit, fried eggplant slices rolled around garlicky walnut paste (see recipe below). I recently made it for a party and ended up with far more paste than I had eggplant to fill with it. Rather than buying more eggplant the next day or freezing it for next time, I roasted beets, sliced them into ½ inch-thick rounds, then slathered them with the walnut paste and ate them atop peppery arugula and feta cheese.
There was more still, so I mixed it with kale and olive oil and roasted it all until the kale was tender and redolent with nuts and garlic. I ate some of that as an accompaniment to leftover pasta, then tucked a heaping spatula of it into a miraculous omelette that simultaneously popped and melted in my mouth.
The last of the fragrant kale I layered onto one half of a crusty warm baguette, slathered its other half with mayonnaise and sandwiched a just-fried egg sprinkled with salt and pepper between the two. When I bit in, the yolk ruptured and burst forth in a sweet and satisfying flood. Not too shabby for Day 3 leftovers.
More on An Everlasting Meal in an upcoming post. Everyone should read this book.
(Note: The following recipe was modified from the original on 7/13/2012 to improve the balance of seasonings.)
Badrijani Nigvzit (Eggplant with Walnut-Garlic Paste)
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer
- 3 medium Italian eggplants (1.5-2 inches in diameter) or 1 large globe eggplants
- Neutral-tasting vegetable oil (canola, sunflower or grapeseed) for frying
- 1 cup walnuts
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 6 Tbsp. water
- 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp. ground fenugreek
- 1/2 tsp. ground marigold* (optional)
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- Dash cayenne pepper
- Fresh cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, and/or pomegranate seeds as garnish (optional)
*The dried and ground petals of this flower impart a little color and a subtle bittersweet flavor to a wide variety of Georgian dishes. Look for imeruli shaprani if you happen to be in Georgia. Otherwise, leave it out.
Wash and cut the tops off the eggplants. Do not peel. Cut lengthwise into ¼ in.-thick slices. If using large globe eggplants, cut slices in half lengthwise to form 2 in.-wide strips. Sprinkle the slices generously with salt and let stand at least 30 minutes, then rinse in a colander, pressing out any dark, bitter juice. Pat dry.
Heat a thin layer of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Brown eggplant slices on both sides, working in batches so as not to crowd the pan and adding oil if they start to char or stick. When both sides have turned a deep golden brown, remove fried slices to a plate lined with paper towels. Continue until all slices are fried and set them aside to cool.
In a food processor, grind walnuts to the consistency of coarse sand. Empty them into a medium bowl. Grind garlic in the food processor with 6 Tbsp. water until a white liquid forms. Add to ground walnuts and stir to combine. Add red wine vinegar, coriander, fenugreek, cayenne, and salt to garlic-walnut paste, stir to combine. Adjust seasoning to taste. (The walnut-garlic paste will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to a year.)
Spread a generous layer of paste on one side of each eggplant strip. For longer strips (from the center of the eggplant), fold in half crosswise (enclosing the paste) and then in half again to form a square pocket. For shorter strips, fold the top and bottom ends in toward the middle, layering one end on top of the other. Arrange the pockets on a platter and sprinkle them with fresh cilantro, flat-leaf parsley or pomegranate seeds (if desired) to serve.