in the beginning…

When we started med school way back in August of 2011, our class instituted a daily ritual of having lunchtime picnics on the quad. Sprawled on the grass and soaking in our daily dose of vitamin D, we used this time to learn more about each other’s lives: hometowns, siblings, favorite books, hobbies. Unsurprisingly, what I took most interest in learning about was the food that people were eating. These classmates of mine were no slackers when it came to packing lunches. From homemade hummus, to bountiful salads, I was comforted in knowing that I was surrounded by new friends who appreciated good food.

During one of these early lunch picnics, I sat by Kate, the really friendly girl who was in my anatomy lab room. As Kate opened up her lunch container, I peered into it out of the corner of my eye and, to my surprise, recognized something familiar-looking nestled inside. I had recently bought my sister Ottolonghi’s Plenty for her birthday and had spent a fair amount ogling over the recipes and pictures. So I knew without a shadow of a doubt that what Kate was holding in her hands was the dish that I had most wanted to make from the book. I knew in an instant that this girl knew her food. I knew that we needed to become friends fast. So without a moment’s hesitation or fear of seeming like a food stalker, I exclaimed, “Oh my god, is that soba noodles with eggplant and mango from Plenty?”

Fast forward 18 months (whoaaaa time flies) to another shared lunch and another iteration of Ottolenghi’s noodles. Things that have happened in the meantime: 1) a lot of med school learnin’ 2) the birth of sugar cured 3) a zillion and one sugar cured lunches 4) my acquisition of a true love for eggplant. Even in the face of my expanding eggplant repertoire, I turn to this noodle recipe a lot, because it embodies the salty/sour/sweet combo I constantly crave and it tastes like summer but uses ingredients that are readily accessible in winter. You can substitute whole wheat spaghetti for the soba but I find the unique flavor of soba to be worth the minor splurge.

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And as it turns out, both of the sugar cured girls had eggplant on the mind in our shopping carts this week and thusly decided to institute a lunch swap. I brought the noodles and Joanna brought the delicious, smoky eggplant, almond, and farro recipe adapted from one of our favorite cooking sites, theKitchn. We thought it appropriate to do a joint post and share the recipe that launched our friendship alongside a its brand new eggplant compadre.

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Soba noodles with aubergine* and mango
From Yotam Ottolonghi’s Plenty
⅓ c rice vinegar
3 T sugar
½ t salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 t sesame oil
Grated zest and juice of one lime
¾ c sunflower or canola oil
2 medium or 1 large eggplants, cut into ¾” dice
8 oz dry soba noodles
1 large mango, cut into ¼” dice
1 handful basil leaves, chopped
1 handful cilantro, chopped
½ a medium red onion, sliced very thin
8 oz tofu, pan fried and cut into small chunks

In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, and salt until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add garlic, pepper flakes, and sesame oil. Allow to cool and add the lime zest and juice.
Next, fry the eggplant. Heat up the sunflower/canola oil in a large skillet and shallow-fry the eggplant in 3 batches. Once golden brown, place in a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt, and leave to drain.
Cook the noodles in salted water for 5-8 minutes until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, and shake off as much of the excess water as possible.
In a mixing bowl toss the noodles, dressing, mango, eggplant, and onion. If you’re serving right away, also add the herb. If not, chill and add the herbs just before serving.

*I think the fact that he calls it “aubergine” is the reason I chose this recipe in the first place. Who wants eggplant when you can have aubergine?

Smoky Eggplant Salad with Goat Cheese and Farro
Adapted from theKitchn
2 large eggplants, about 2 pounds
Kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lemon, about 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup flat parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Heat the oven to 400°F. Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes and put in a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and set aside while making the marinade.
Whisk together the olive oil, cider vinegar, honey, smoked paprika, and cumin. Stir in the garlic. Spread the eggplant on a large baking sheet, lined with foil and slide onto a rack placed in the center of the oven. Roast at 400°F for 40 minutes, or until very tender and slightly browned. (Stir every 15 minutes and check after 30 minutes to make sure it isn’t burning.) Remove from the oven and cool slightly.
Whisk together the lemon juice and soy sauce. Return the eggplant to the bowl and toss with the lemon juice mixture. Stir in the parsley leaves, almonds, and the goat cheese (goat cheese will get melty. If you prefer to have chunks, let the salad cool before adding the cheese).  Enjoy warm or cold.

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