|You need some ground beef (optional), choice of noodles, tomato sauce, eggplants, an onion, and seasonings.|
I absolutely love Korean food. In fact, I usually eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However sometimes I get a craving for something from the Western side of the world. I saw some beautiful eggplants (가지) while shopping at LotteMart the other day and decided to make some stuffed eggplant. This dish is super easy to make... if you have an oven. Damn. I am lucky enough to have an awesome oven with four burners on top. But, I'm aware of the fact that most people in Korea don't have an oven, and often don't have more than two burners to work with. Foreigners typically don't have many pots and pans too. So the challenge was made. Could I make stuffed eggplant without using an oven, and using no more than two pots and burners? Let's find out.
First step, you need to prep your eggplant at least an hour before you actually want to start cooking. It's annoying, but if you don't do this then your whole dish will end up a sloppy, bitter mess. You don't need to peel your eggplant for this dish but I like to run the peeler down four sides of it, I think that it makes it easier to salt. Anyway, cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, and using a spoon, scoop out as much of the middle as possible. Don't make the wall of the eggplant too thin though. It's okay to be a little rough, the middle isn't going to come out without a little force. I usually plan one eggplant per person, but if you're not serving this with noodles then you'll probably need more. I was making dinner for three people, but I bought four eggplants. Why? Because I cut up the smallest eggplant and added it to the eggplant that I scooped out from the others. Make sure all of the stuff you scooped out is cut into bite sized pieces. Place this in a colander or somewhere it can drain easily. After that, ADD SALT. TONS OF SALT. You need to salt the stuffing and the shells of the eggplant, be very generous, don't worry about your eggplant tasting salty because you'll rinse the salt off later, but for now salt it like a crazy person. The salt will draw all of the moisture out from the eggplant and leave it with a much better texture and taste than you would have otherwise. Leave this alone for an hour.
I waited about 30 minutes after I salted the eggplant and realized that since I was only using two burners I was going to have start on my sauces. This first sauce is completely optional but I always use it in my stuffed eggplant. It's bechamel sauce, your basic white sauce. I make mine using "I can't believe it's not butter" as opposed to clarified butter like you're supposed to and it always comes out great. I've even made it using olive oil before. If you've never made bechamel sauce before then it's super easy. You need equal parts butter and flour and some milk. Just mix the flour and butter together and let it cook for a minute, until it smells nutty, then gradually add warm milk. Fully incorporate the milk before adding more. If you just dump it all in then your sauce will be lumpy. Usually it's one tablespoon of each per cup of milk for a thin sauce, two tablespoons of each for a medium thick sauce, and three tablespoons each for a very thick sauce. I used two tablespoons of each and about a cup and a half of milk which gave me a medium-thin sauce. I should have gone thicker in hindsight, but oh well. As for seasoning, I added onion powder, garlic powder, salt, white pepper, and just a pinch of nutmeg. When my sauce was finished I poured it into a bowl, set it aside and washed my pot. Using only two burners and pots is hard.
The next thing is the tomato sauce. If I'm making pasta then I usually like to make my sauce entirely from tomato paste. I don't like jarred sauces. I think they are watery and don't have enough flavor. But if you don't mind them then go ahead and use them. This is my middle of the road, compromise method. It tastes good and is really fast. Just mix one jar of sauce with one can of paste and one can of water. Add minced garlic, basil, parsley, oregano and pepper. You can set this aside for now, we're not done with it yet.
It's been an hour and the eggplant's transformation should be complete. You can see how much water it sweated out. Dump that, then rinse the eggplant off. After you've rinsed it, gently squeeze the extra water out of it. When you're done it should look similar too my picture. Be careful with the shells just rinse them and set them aside, if you squeeze them then they will probably rip and break.
In a frypan, add the eggplant, a diced onion and some ground beef, the ground beef is optional, you can use whatever meat you want, or none at all. If you do decide to go vegetarian though then you'll probably need to add something else to the mix. I seasoned this with salt and pepper. When it was done I started simmering the tomato sauce and cooking my pasta.
Alright, construction time. First I put the white sauce in the bottom, add the filling, and cover with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. All of the extra filling went right into the tomato sauce to simmer. If I was using my oven then I would bake these guys at 200C for about fifteen minutes. In fact I decided to do that with four of them. As my control group. My pasta also finished at this time so I drained it, mixed it with a little olive oil to prevent it all sticking together and set it aside. I then added a little water to the pasta pot and got out my colander. It was steaming time.
I could only fit two in my colander (which was why I put the others in the oven). I covered it and steamed it for about fifteen minutes. When everything was finished I added my pasta to the sauce and plated up. How did the oven stuffed eggplant compare to the steamed stuffed eggplant?
The cheese on the oven eggplant became nice and brown, the sauce also dried out a little bit. The steamed eggplant had melty cheese and was very moist, but both were extremely delicious. This was hard to pull off but I guess it is possible to make stuffed eggplant on a stovetop with only two pots (and a frypan). If you wanted to go the super easy route, I would just make the the pasta, tomato sauce, and fry up some eggplant for the the sauce, because the tomato sauce was excellent. Hmm what other things can I make on a stovetop that are usually made in an oven?