Cléa Massiani / Eggplant Salad with Baharat, Parsley, and Crispy Scallions
I have a personal love of the word 'curation'. It represents a type of conscious intention, that when taken in a particular direction with the right balance of taste, experience, and knowledge, can lead to marvelous things. Whether it's curating a dinner party, types of friendships, or works of art, curation is a specific, multifaceted, and in some ways, calculating skill.
In a relatively short period of time, among her many other projects and successes, Clea Massiani has put these exact talents to work and grown Bass and Reiner Gallery from an emerging art space to a gallery that is now housed in the famed Minnesota Street Project, which was recently featured in The New York Times Magazine's article 'A Guide to America’s Next Great Art Neighborhood'. Under her curatorial direction, Bass and Reiner has hosted a range of international artists and impressive events, all with a contemporary aesthetic that introduces visitors to a unique side of what artistic expression represents today. As somewhat of a minimalist, I am also an admirer of the gallery’s promotional artworks, which are particularly eye-catching and cohesive.
Clea is French, so when it comes to food one can only imagine that she might long for treasures of le marché that we can probably all agree for one reason or another are unparalleled in the US. But what the US and many of its metropolitan areas do offer is an exceptional diversity in cuisine, and since relocating to the US, Clea did concede that she has developed an affection for a range of culinaires including, but not limited, to Cajun, Mexican, and Israeli food.
This fried eggplant salad is meant to represent some of those new flavor discoveries. The salad is composed of crispy scallions and hearty breadcrumbs for texture, fresh parsley and bright lemon juice for balance, and chili flake for spice, all resting atop luscious fried eggplant. Hidden beneath is a dusting of baharat, a Middle Eastern spice blend that adds warmth and depth to the vegetables, finished off with, of course, a dash of olive oil to tie everything together. Like Clea, the gallery, and her curatorial program, this dish reveals itself not only visually but within its many dimensions.
EGGPLANT SALAD WITH BAHARAT, PARSLEY, AND CRISPY SCALLIONS
Serves 2 as a main, 4 - 6 as a shared app
2 medium-sized eggplants
6 - 7 scallions, very thinly sliced
1 - 2 pieces of good quality bread for bread crumbs*
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Lots of olive oil for cooking
Plenty of salt for the eggplant
1 - 2 tsp chili flake
1 - 2 tsp baharat
*Here I used a Bavarian-style pumpernickel bread, but a similar rye or even a good quality whole wheat would work as well.
Slice the eggplant into just under 1 inch rounds. In a large bowl/plate/baking sheet generously salt the eggplant pieces on top and bottom. You can pile them on top of each other. Let sit for 20 - 30 minutes.
In a medium (preferably non-stick) skillet, crumble the bread into very small pieces and toast. Remove from pan and set aside.
With your thinly sliced scallions prepared, heat a large skillet on high/medium-high heat and heat enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan. Adjust the heat so that the oil is hot but not smoking. In two batches, carefully add half of the scallions, tossing gently but immediately when added to prevent hot oil splatter, and adjusting the heat as needed. Fry until they are just starting to crisp and brown, tossing a few times. Using a slotted spoon, remove the fried scallions and place on a plate with paper towel. Repeat with second half of scallions. Set aside and keep the remaining oil in the pan.
Rinse the salt off the eggplant and pat dry with a paper towel. In the pan with the scallion oil, add some more oil and again heat to hot but not smoking. Carefully add enough eggplant rounds to fill the pan but not too crowded, usually 5 - 6 pieces depending on the pan. Keep an eye on the eggplant! It will soak up the oil as it cooks and you need to add generous dashes of oil as it goes along. When the eggplant has fried and is browning on one side, flip gently with tongs or a spatula and let the other side brown. You can make sure they're done by sticking a fork or knife gently into the center of a piece, but usually a well-browned piece means it is cooked through. Remove once cooked and place on a plate with paper towel. Repeat until all pieces are done and let the eggplant cool to room temperature.
When the eggplant is at room temperature, plate the dish by adding a very light dash of olive oil to the serving plate. Then sprinkle the baharat (you can use more or less depending on your preference). On top of the oil and baharat, add the eggplant slices. Top with parsley, fried scallions, bread crumbs and chili flake. Add juice from the lemon immediately before serving but not before, otherwise the toppings will get soggy.
Learn more about Clea and Bass and Reiner here.