Want To Learn To Cook With Fire? This Eggplant Recipe Is A Perfect Starter
In his recent cookbook, The Outdoor Kitchen: Live-Fire Cooking From the Grill, Eric Werner doesn't just provide recipes—he also dives into the process of setting up a kitchen for cooking outdoors that goes far beyond a grill. It's Werner's second cookbook, following his 2015 book Hartwood, named for his zero carbon footprint restaurant in Tulum, Mexico. The restaurant is, unsurprisingly given his sophomore book, known for wood-fired cooking and for serving unbelievably fresh seafood, along with being completely off-grid and self-sustainable.
A New York native before moving to the Yucatán Peninsula, Werner worked at Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn and learned more about cooking over fire at Peasant in Lower Manhattan. After moving (part time) to Mexico in 2010, he's spent 10 years "living and cooking in the Yucatán jungle," according to the book's introduction. The restaurant has no gas and no electricity—it's truly fire-powered cooking. He and his family now split their time between the Yucatán and the Catskills, where he first learned the art of live-fire cooking as a teen.
With The Outdoor Kitchen, Werner aspired to make the live-fire cooking he loves accessible from an American backyard—but don't expect that to mean it's full of recipes to make on a traditional grill. He recommends swapping out your grill's charcoal for hardwood and learning how to cook that way for making a more flavorful dish. If you're curious, the book includes detailed instructions for building your own outdoor kitchen along the lines of the one at Hartwood.
While the book includes many recipes for treatments of those sea-based proteins his restaurants rely on, it was the initial chapters of vegetable side dishes that caught our eye. Among the three eggplant dishes on the list, we found this one particularly appealing thanks to its simple, pantry-based ingredient list. After grilling the whole eggplant and drizzling it with the sauce, it can also make for a show-stopping dinner party centerpiece.
Eggplant With Cashew Cream
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours
- ¼ cup unsoaked cashews, roughly chopped
- ½ head roasted garlic, cloves removed
- ¾ cup water
- Salt, for seasoning
- 2 large globe eggplants
- Oil, for coating
- 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
- ¼ cup chopped mint leaves
- Wipe the grill grates with oil to prevent sticking. Build a medium-heat fire. Your medium-heat zone should have embers 3 to 5 inches from the cooking surface.
- Drain the cashews and add to a blender or food processor with the garlic and water. Blend until very smooth and season with salt. Set aside.
- Grill the eggplants over medium heat, turning often, until lightly charred all over and a knife easily passes through, about 30 minutes total.
- Meanwhile, in a cast-iron pan over medium heat, toast the remaining ¼ cup cashews and sesame seeds, tossing often, until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- To serve, place the eggplants on a platter and split lengthwise. Pour on the cashew cream and sprinkle with the toasted cashews, sesame seeds, and mint. Serve immediately.