What’s up with farro? I’ve seen it appear on the menus of several (very trendy) local restaurants lately. Westward’s “Emmer-Farro with Nectarines and Chevre” or Ethan Stowell’s “Farro with summer squash, radish, pickled red onion, and soft boiled egg.” Then I went out to dinner tonight at a restaurant at Pike Place Market and guess what my salmon was served over? That’s right: farro. These dishes all seem tasty, don’t get me wrong, but it’s as if local chefs have just ‘discovered’ this ancient grain. Is farro becoming the new quinoa? I hope we’re not going to decimate another staple crop of subsistence farmers in the developing world to support our latest food fad.
Just to be clear, this post does not involve any farro (and no Bolivian farmers were harmed in the making of this recipe). It’s mostly about eggplant, but I was just wondering what the deal with the farro fad is…
Now is the time for, as my friend Lupine terms them, ‘crossover meals.’ Summer is waning and fall is just getting a foothold (I realized I already talked about this here and here, so I’ll stop with the seasons already). This is a perfect crossover dinner; the hot crops, like peppers and eggplants, are finally ripening and we can still get the last of the stone fruit. This dish is half warm, cooked ingredients and half cold, raw ones. It can be eaten hot for dinner right when you make it, but also makes a great leftover cold lunch dish.
I feel like eggplant gets a bit of a bad rap, especially if it’s cooked poorly, but it’s actually delicious. It requires quite a bit of oil and needs to cook way down until all the bitter liquid is out. Last week I picked up some beautiful varieties of eggplant at the farmer’s market and came up with the idea for this dish. Soba (or buckwheat noodles) make a great base for asian-inspired dishes. I paired the soft, cooked eggplant with fresh carrot and white bell pepper (also from the farmer’s market) and added a triad of asian herbs: cilantro, mint, and thai basil. The addition of a diced nectarine brought a bit of sweetness to the dish and paired nicely with the eggplant. (Ottolenghi does a similar dish with a mango, but nectarines are still in season here. And let’s be real, mangoes are never actually in season in Washington…)
Given that the only ingredient you really have to cook is the eggplant (well, and boil the noodles), this dish comes together pretty quickly. Try it out! It might even make you an eggplant-convert!
Eggplant Soba Noodle Bowls
(I also added some fresh coriander seeds which I realize you probably don’t have unless you have a cilantro plant bolting in your yard…)
Note: If I made this again I’d also add a bit a heat to the dressing (if that’s your thing) in the form of cayenne or red pepper flakes, and probably some chopped cashews on top.
Rice wine vinegar
Fish sauce (optional)
1. Chop eggplant into bite-sized pieces. Grate carrot. Julienne pepper. Dice the nectarine. Chiffonade the herbs. (How’s that for using every cooking term in one step).
2. Heat a large pan and then add the oil generously to coat, maybe 1/4-1/2” thick. (Tip: always let a stainless steel pan heat up before adding oil. The metal is slightly porous, but when it expands the pores close, allowing the oil to coat only the surface and prevent sticking.)
3. Add the eggplant (make sure there’s only one layer and each piece is in contact with the pan). Cook until soft, maybe 10 minutes.
4. Boil soba noodles in salted water (salty like the sea - this is different than, say, rice where all the liquid gets absorbed. Realistically you pour out most the water you boil pasta in and along with it, the salt. So this is your one and only chance to get a little bit of salt flavor into dried pasta.) Soba noodles cook quickly, so don’t put them in the water until you’re almost ready to assemble the dish.
5. Add the noodles to a large bowl (or individual bowls if you prefer to serve that way) and layer over the top the cooked eggplant, carrot, pepper, nectarine and herbs.
6. Mix together dressing - I can’t even begin to estimate amounts, but I will say fish sauce is strong, so use only a little or leave it out if you don’t like the flavor. Use the sugar liberally to cut the acid and sweeten the whole thing up. Be sure your oils to vinegar/lime is around 3:1 and you should be fine…
7. Dress entire bowl and toss. Serve warm (and eat leftovers cold for lunch!)
Lest you think my little house is always photo-ready, I cooked around this mess last night :( Sometimes you just don't want to do the dishes.