I love grilling vegetables. They can be served as is as a side dish or coarsely chopped in a salad. They also can act as the basis of flavorful spreads. Recently, I opted for the latter and created a smoky eggplant spread flavored with onion, garlic, grape molasses, tahini, a few herbs and sea salt; to ensure the eggplant would blend smoothly in the food processor, I added delicious Chardonnay cider I discovered at Trader Joe's. The result is out of-this-world delicious. You could stop the work right there and serve the spread in a bowl with lavash bread or pita bread, but I fancied it up by using it as a filling in mini-tartlets.
This appetizer is not only cute, it's very easy to prepare. I let the girls prepare the eggplant spread and assemble the one bite-sized appetizers while I was preparing dinner. I had two goals in mind. First, it kept them occupied and they had fun at the same time, instead of asking "is dinner ready yet?" The second main reason is that now since they now know how to make this, they can help out with very little supervision whenever we have guests over. I find it very valuable to get the girls involved in the kitchen. They appreciate food more when they know where it came from, and as I keep reminding them, they'll be thankful to know basics when they're on their own at college.
Servings: 20 mini appetizers
1 large eggplant
4 (5 x 5-inch) squares store-bought puff pastry dough, cut into quarters
⅓ cup olive oil
½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
1½ tablespoons grape molasses
2 teaspoons tahini
½ teaspoon sweet Mesquite seasoning
½ teaspoon dried mint
½ teaspoon dried parlsey
1 tablespoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, lightly toasted
¼ cup Chardonnay cider (or any fruit juice)
1½ tablespoons curly parsley, chopped
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
For the tart shell: Make sure the puff pastry dough is thawed but still cold so it's easy to roll out. Place the dough in individual non-stick tartlet molds; following the curve of the mold, crimp the dough against the edge. Gently press the dough with your fingers so there are no air bubbles. Leave a little excess above the edge because the dough will settle a bit in the oven. Prick the dough with a fork. Gather the remnant puff pastry dough and fill 4 more molds. Chill in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes. Place the tartlet molds on a baking sheet and bake for about 11 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let the dough cool. Set aside.
Cooking the eggplant:
Trim and slice the eggplants lengthwise. Sprinkle with salt. Let sit, then pat dry with paper towels. Brush a non-stick griddle pan with oil. Add the eggplant slices and cook on both sides until grill marks are visible. Coarsely chop.
For the filling: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a non-stick pan. Add thinly sliced onions. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent them from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown. Add the eggplant, garlic, Mesquite seasoning, grape molasses, dried mint and parsley and tahini. Stir until barely combined. Transfer to a food processor. Add the remaining olive oil and Chardonnay cider (1 tablespoon at a time, up to ¼ cup) for a smooth flow. Season with sea salt and pepper. If prepared in advance, store in the refrigerator until ready to assemble.
Before serving, remove the eggplant spread from the refrigerator ahead of time to bring it back to room temperature.
Spoon or pipe the eggplant filling into the tart shells. Top with the sesame seeds.
Garnish with fresh parsley.
Serve at room temperature.
I bought the non-stick petit four pans at Williams-Sonoma at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California. These pans are generally hard to find. It's a set of thirty with 5 different shapes, all made in France. It cost $26.
Rolling the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper (or on 2 silicon mats) eliminates the need for too much flour on the rolling surface, which can change the texture of the dough.
You can find grape molasses in any Middle-Eastern market.
Don't discard the puff pastry remnants. Make some cheese twists the next day!