Dig In: Fried Eggplant With Honey
"This entire dish could come from your garden," chef Katie Button says of her berenjenas la taberna, or fried eggplant with local honey and rosemary. "Fried eggplant with molasses or cane syrup is a traditional dish from Málaga in the southeast of Spain. Our version uses what grows on farms in our area."
The executive chef and co-owner of Cúrate bar de tapas in Asheville, North Carolina was on her way to a Ph.D in neuroscience before switching gears and immersing herself in Spanish cuisine. Cúrate features traditional Spanish dishes like brandada de bacalao (cod and potato puree) and ajo blanco (chilled almond garlic soup), but the berenjenas is one of the most requested recipes in the restaurant.
Button uses local honey from Wild Mountain Bees and says the key to this dish is soaking the eggplant slices in milk overnight. "This is what allows it to be super crispy and tender," she says. "And it pulls out all the bitterness."
Berenjenas la Taberna – Fried Eggplant with Local Honey and Rosemary
Serves 4 as an appetizer or side dish
1 each medium eggplant
2 cups whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup local honey
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Salt to taste
1 quart vegetable oil
The day before:
Cut tops and bottoms off the eggplant and peel with a vegetable peeler or knife. Slice eggplant into rounds that are ½ inch thick—you should get about 12 slices from 1 medium-sized eggplant. As you slice the eggplant, put it into a large container or bowl with enough milk to cover. You will likely have to weigh the eggplant down with a plate to keep it submerged in the milk. Soak overnight in the refrigerator.
Heat a large frying pan with vegetable oil about 1 inch deep until approximately 350 degrees or when a drop of water sizzles. Make sure there is enough oil to cover the eggplant slices when you put them in. Drain the eggplant from the milk, dredge them in the flour and tap off excess flour. Drop into oil and fry until golden brown but not too dark, about 2-3 minutes. Don't crowd the pan: you want 1 layer of eggplant frying at a time. Flip the eggplant slices during cooking for even browning.
Sprinkle each piece of eggplant with a pinch of salt as it comes out of the fryer. Drain on wire rack. Drizzle some honey onto each piece of the fried eggplant while on the wire rack. And top each piece of eggplant with 2-3 rosemary leaves. Serve immediately.