This dish is my idea of a one-size-fits-all appetizer for the looming holidays, whether we’re talking about Hanukkah, Thanksgiving or Christmas.
It’s particularly apt for Hanukkah because the eggplant is “fried” in oil — and oil is one of the holiday’s central symbols. The good news is that the eggplant is pan-fried — not deep-fried — and vegetarian, so it’s still reasonably healthy. Heck, if you built a bigger version, you could even turn it into a vegetarian entree.
Buying fresh eggplants is key. Whatever its size — and they range from thin Asian strains to big and bulbous Italian-Americans — an eggplant should have a very shiny skin and be firm and smooth to the touch. Also, it’s best to cook it as soon as possible after you buy it. Eggplants don’t like the refrigerator; they tend to deteriorate quickly in the cold.
I did salt my eggplant here, but more for flavor than any other reason. I definitely didn’t want to extend the prep time by salting and letting it sit for hours; we’re already spending a lot of time in the kitchen cooking for the holidays. I chose small eggplants for this recipe, mainly because I wanted one-bite tastes, but also because the skin on the smaller eggplants usually is more tender. But if all you can find is the larger guys, just slice them into rounds, then cut the rounds into quarters.
The eggplant’s blandness makes it a terrific host for spices. I went Middle Eastern here, with cumin, smoked paprika and cayenne. But you’re welcome to roll instead with a curry or Cajun mix, or with chopped dried herbs. However you spice it, the recipe’s yogurt-cucumber sauce, which consists of exactly three ingredients and requires only 5 minutes to prep, provides a lovely cooling counterpoint.
One note about the breading procedure: it’s important to knock off the excess flour, let the excess egg mixture drip off, and to tap off the extra breadcrumbs. If you don’t, you’ll end up with an over-breaded slice of eggplant and too few crumbs. Breading the eggplant keeps it from absorbing too much oil. The end result is wonderfully creamy. My husband, no fan of eggplant, scarfed up these tasty little bites with no complaint.