Okay, so this month’s three ingredients at the Royal Foodie Joust are lentils, eggplant and cinnamon. Although it would’ve been a fairly obvious choice, I opted for a decidedly un-Asian dish. There would be no dal this month, no, that would be a little too “on the nose” for me. And a lentil soup? Are you fucking kidding me? No offense, but I could turn out a lentil soup in my sleep. I needed a challenge. And with three ingredients like these, a challenge I would have.
So I start brain-storming: A rustic lentil puree? Ooh, I could call it ‘po-lentil’. Get it? Instead of polenta? Oh man, I kill myself. But no, that’s not quite where I want to go with this. What about a fritter? I’ve been craving fritter-y type things lately. I already have a jar of beluga lentils in the cupboard.
What about the cinnamon? I could go savory with it, as I am wont to do. Can’t do Moroccan again, though, that is so last month. What about an aioli? I always make an aioli when I make fritter-y type things.
And eggplant? Okay, I used eggplant in the dish last month, and in fact, my first food blog competition included eggplant as one of the must-use ingredients. I’m kind of sick of experimenting with eggplant. So I hafta start really thinking about it. Stifado? I haven’t ever really branched out into Spanish food, which I love, and I haven’t made stifado since I was a vegetarian (like more than 5 years ago). I’ve been craving something saucy and tomato-y, too. Hmmm. A sofrito?
What about the protein? I have WAY too much lamb in the freezer (made it to the butcher last weekend for the boss’ lamb). I should use it, but I don’t want to have the same protein two entries in a row. I do have some venison in the freezer. I should get it out of there and do something with it.
And so it goes, tossing ideas around in my head for an hour or so, and it finally came together. It wouldn’t be very cohesive, but it just might work: beluga lentil fritters with a chunky eggplant sofrito, homemade venison chorizo and cinnamon aioli. The lentil fritters are reminiscent of Italian street food, so at least I’m not totally off the map. And while venison is not a traditional ingredient in Spanish chorizo, I decide it will be delicious anyway and keep everything else pretty straightforward. I picked up some salt pork to flesh it out a bit. I am totally doing this.
The apron and gloves are tied tight. Round two. Fight!
1 1/3 cup cooked, drained lentils (I used beluga lentils, but any will do, including canned)
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk (microwave for 1 minute to warm)
fat pinch kosher salt, crack pepper
1 tbsp chopped oregano
oil for frying
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk until nutty and slightly browned. Turn off heat and whisk in milk until blended thoroughly (or cheat and use an immersion blender like I do for expediency). Let it cool. Gratz, you’ve just made a bechamel, my favorite of the mother sauces.
Stir the lentils, S&P and oregano into the bechamel. Heat a little oil in a frying pan or electric griddle (nonstick is great for this) and drop a tablespoon at a time of the batter into the hot, oiled pan and fry until golden. If the first one falls apart, you can add a little more flour to the batter and cook them like regular pancakes. Remove from the oil to a cooling rack positioned over a baking sheet lined with a sheet of newspaper. You can keep these in a warm oven until ready to use.
Note: you can use store-bought Spanish (not Mexican) chorizo or omit it altogether. My amateur-hour chorizo is not cured (I do have a day job, y’know), and therefore must be stored in the refrigerator and cooked before eaten.
1 1/4 lb. venison stew meat
1/2 lb. salt pork, cut into chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tbsp paprika (I used a hot, smoked Spanish one that is to DIE for – pictured above)
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (I toast the stick and grind it myself)
1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper
1/4 cup basic Spanish red table wine (such as temperanillo), plus a glass to sip while you work
Fire up the meat grinder, folks! Oh, how I love the “wheeee” of my meat grinder (I have a handy attachment for my KitchenAid – best wedding gift EVER). You basically just load the meat grinder (set at the coarsest grind), alternating between venison, garlic and pork. Then add everything else and mix with your hands. So visceral. So sexy.
Put the bright red meatwad into an airtight container for at least 6 hours so the flavors can get friendly. I made mine a coupla days in advance, so it had about 48 hours. If you are an experienced sausage maker and already have casings and everything, knock yourself out. I just left it fresh and crumbled it into a pan to brown. “Muy rústico” and whatnot.
As far as I can surmise, sofrito is a basic Spanish tomato sauce. I like to keep it real and live up to my motto, so I used fresh tomatoes which I fire-roasted in addition to roasted canned tomatoes. This sauce would also be amazing just on pasta or smeared onto some pizza dough with a little manchego.
1 medium-sized eggplant, stemmed and cut into matchsticks
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, drained (juices reserved)
4 cloves garlic
~4 oz cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp diced bacon
1/2 medium-sized onion, sliced thinly
1/2 c Spanish red table wine (same as for chorizo)
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
salt and pepper
Put the drained, canned tomatoes into a baking dish and squish them up a bit with your hands. Add the garlic cloves and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast at 350 for 1 hour until slightly browned and slumpy as pictured above. Deglaze the browned juices from the baking dish with the red wine, being sure to scrape all that delicious fond off with a wooden spoon. Remove the roasty garlic cloves and chop them up.
Whilst the tomatoes are roasting, put eggplant matchsticks in a colander in the sink and sprinkle with salt. Leave it there 15-20 minutes, then squeeze out all the bitter juices. Set aside.
Put the reserved tomato juice into a small saucepan and reduce over medium heat until syrupy (you can also do this while the tomatoes are roasting, since you have an hour to kill).
If you have a gas range, place a cooling rack or somesuch over a burner and roast the cherry tomatoes over the open flame until the skins pop and char. Gently pull them off into a bowl and cover for 10 minutes to stew in their own juices. Puree the tomatoes and sieve to remove seeds and skin (some of the nice charred bits will still find their way in).
When everything’s ready, heat a tsp of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and fry for a minute until rendered. Add the onion and saute until a little golden. Add the eggplant, saute for one minute and then add the tomatoes, garlic, reduced tomato juice and the red wine from the baking dish. Let it simmer over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until the juices are reduced almost completely and the sofrito is nice and sticky. Add the oregano and maybe a little pepper and stir. You will not need to salt this because the eggplant already brought all the salt to the party.
This is much easier with a blender, but if you prefer to use a whisk, knock yourself out.
3 egg yolks
~1/4 c olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Add all ingredients to blender and whizz until a creamy, mayo-like consistency.
I like to plate this like a little Napoleon by placing one fritter on the plate, adding a spoonful of the browned chorizo and another of the sofrito, topping with another fritter and then drizzling the aioli over the top.
This dish really tastes nice with a tempranillo or any other Rioja.