French-Fried Eggplant with Florida Guzpachy Sauce

This was among the most popular dishes served at one of the first American regional dinners I gave at the Santa Fe Bar & Grill. “Guzpachy” is obviously a step away from “gazpacho,” the soup that has somewhat the same ingredients as this sauce, which is really a relish or salsa. Like all relishes, it needs to sit an hour for all the flavors to develop. The combination of the sharp, cold sauce with the rich, piping-hot, fried eggplant is very successful. You could serve a big platter of eggplant and pass a bowl of sauce, or serve individual portions as a first course.

Ingredients

  • 1 large cucumber
  • salt
  • 1 medium sweet red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 hard-cooked egg yolk, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lime or lemon juice
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, finely chopped
  • 8 medium Japanese eggplants
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup seasoned flour
  • ½ cup fresh white bread crumbs
  • vegetable oil for deep frying

Method

Peel the cucumber and cut lengthwise in half. Scoop out and discard the seeds and then cut the cucumber into ⅛-inch dice. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt and let drain in a colander for 15 minutes. Taste a piece of the cucumber. If it is too salty, rinse it and drain well. Combine the cucumber, onion, egg yolk, mint, olive oil, and lime juice in a bowl.

Put the vinegar and garlic in a non-aluminum saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the bell pepper, cook 30 seconds, and pour over the cucumber mixture. Mix together well and set aside.

Cut the stems off the eggplants and then cut them lengthwise into quarters. Put the eggplant in a colander, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt, and let drain for 30 minutes.

Wipe the salt off the eggplant. Whisk the eggs in a bowl, put the seasoned flour in another bowl, and put the bread crumbs on a plate. Heat the vegetable oil to 375°F. Dip the eggplant pieces first in the flour, then in the egg, and then roll them in the bread crumbs. Lower them into the hot oil and fry for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces, until golden brown and tender. Be sure to maintain the temperature of the oil, especially if you put several pieces in at once.

Put the guzpachy in the center of each warm plate and place the hot eggplant pieces around the sauce like the spokes of a wheel. Serve immediately.

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