To me, eggplant seems a little mysterious, with its smooth, thick exterior and porous interior. In Britain they call it by the exotic-sounding name “aubergine.” Its shiny purple skin beckons, so that before I know it I’ve put it into my grocery cart, bought it at a farmers market, or accepted it from a neighbor’s garden surplus. This year I received some as part of our CSA membership. Then, there it was in all its royal splendor in my refrigerator, waiting to be eaten somehow.
What to do? Breading and then frying or oven-baking is one option. Another is baba ghanoush—a Middle Eastern hummus-like spread that can be amazing. In browsing recipes, I stumbled on an unusual idea that turned out to be a tasty way to preserve this unique vegetable: eggplant “bacon.” It’s sweet, salty, and rich like bacon, and it’s also deep-flavored and “meaty.” To avoid the comparison with bacon, because in my opinion eggplant will always come up short, I’ve called the recipe eggplant jerky. Like beef jerky this dried snack is chewy, especially the parts with the peels, and it can be stored at room temperature.
If you don’t have a food dehydrator you can dry the eggplant using the lowest setting on your oven; this recipe has instructions for both methods.
For the salt, you can use regular salt, or for added flavor, applewood smoked salt.
- 1 large eggplant (about 1 pound)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- Regular or applewood-smoked salt
- Wash eggplant and slice into thin strips. For ease in snacking you can cut long strips in half crosswise. Leave full-length for a more bacon-like appearance.
- In a large bowl whisk together oil, vinegar, maple syrup, and paprika. Place strips in the mixture a few at a time, turning to make sure each is completely coated. If you run short of marinade, add a little more oil and stir it in with your hands.
- Marinate 2 hours. Then, place strips on baking sheets or dehydrator trays as follows:
- To dry in the oven: Line one or two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Lay strips on sheets, close together but not overlapping. Sprinkle on a little salt (you don’t need much). Place in oven on lowest setting for 10 to 12 hours (ovens’ lowest setting varies, thus drying time will vary) or until dry and fairly crisp, turning strips partway through. Check occasionally, and if any oil pools on the sheets, blot with a paper towel.
- To dry in a food dehydrator: Lay strips on mesh trays. While you do this, place a tray fitted with a solid sheet underneath the mesh tray to catch any drips. Strips should be close but not overlapping. Sprinkle on a little salt (again, you don’t need much). Place trays in dehydrator. Some oil may drip off during dehydrating, so place the tray with the solid sheet (you could use the one used earlier to catch drips of marinade) underneath the mesh trays holding the strips, and lay a couple of paper towels on the sheet. Dehydrate at 115°F for 12 to 18 hours or until dry and fairly crisp.
- Store strips in an airtight container or plastic bag. Place a paper towel under or around strips to absorb any excess oil.
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