Raise your hand if you read my guest post on Beantown Baker about crispy eggplant “bacon.” That should be all of you. If you didn’t, well, I’ll consider that your loss. Jen’s drool-worthy blog is more than worth a visit, and you’ll be much more competent to answer next time someone asks you for a vegetarian substitute for bacon. If you happen to hang out with those sorts of people.
I know a few vegetarians, sure. But mostly I wonder about these things for myself, despite being decidedly carnivorous. I don’t think I’ll reach a point in my life where I pass up a tender braised lamb shank or juicy chicken leg straight off the grill, and yet, more often than not I find myself pondering, “how can I make that vegetarian?”“ pretty much because I think vegetarian food is cool, and some of the time, healthier.
Most recently, “that” thing I wanted to vegetarian-ize was bacon-wrapped dates. Ironically, the idea came not from bacon-wrapped dates themselves, because I’ve actually never had one. Instead I was reminiscing about my crispy eggplant bacon and betting there was some other forms of deliciousness in which it could be featured. And that’s when I recalled that it’s apparently a pretty popular thing to stuff a date with some cheese and wrap it in bacon. Tangy, salty cheese with boozy dates and smokey meat. What’s not to love? And why should Jews and vegetarians (and any other folks averse to pork) miss out on all the fun?
We shouldn’t, and we won’t. Not when you can wrap a goat cheese-stuffed date in a paper-thin slice of spicy, smokey marinated eggplant and pop it on the grill. Not when you watch and smell as the eggplant becomes tender and charred, and its spicy marinade permeates the sugary, caramelized dates. Not when you catch a glimpse of warm goat cheese oozing out, and you know it’s time to eat before anything precious goes to waste.
Now, don’t try to fool or be fooled. As I learned when serving these, it’s rather frivolous to explain the concept behind these eggplant wrapped dates as the vegetarian spin-off of their bacon-wrapped cousins. No one really wanted to listen. Not because they didn’t believe me, but because I was too late. They were already busy savoring these spicy, sweet bites, hot off the grill. And they couldn’t really hear me anyway, as their exclamations of love for these trumped my attempts. No, they may not be a perfect stand-in for bacon, but they’re more than perfect in their own rite.
Clearly, no explanations were needed. So instead, I dove right in, and fought them all for the last piece.
Grilled Eggplant Wrapped Dates with Goat Cheese
Eggplant and Marinade
2 small eggplant, about 1/2 lb each
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
26 pitted dates
2 1/2 ounces goat cheese
Large toothpicks or wooden barbecue skewers (tip: soak them in water for at least one hour before grilling, so that they don’t catch on fire.)
Trim the ends of eggplant. Using a mandoline, cut the eggplant into 1/8″ slices. (Discard the first piece, which will be all skin on one side.) You should get about 12-14 slices from each eggplant.
Whisk together the remaining marinade ingredients (water through cayenne pepper.
Arrange a single layer of eggplant slices in a baking dish and pour some of the marinade over it. Repeat with remaining eggplant and marinade, layering in the baking dish. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
Meanwhile, carefully open each date (dates that have been pitted already should have a slit on one side.) Stuff each date with 1/2 teaspoon of goat cheese.
Preheat grill to medium-low heat, and oil the grates with cooking spray.
Pour the marinade off of the eggplant and discard. Take one slice of eggplant and carefully wrap it around a goat cheese-stuffed date, then push it on to a skewer. Repeat with remaining eggplant and dates.
Place the skewers on the grill, and cook for 3-5 minutes per side, until the eggplant is tender and lightly browned. Serve hot.
Note: only half the amount of marinade is accounted for in the nutritional information, since the eggplant does not absorb all of it.
Servings Per Recipe: 13
Serving Size: 2 dates
Amount Per Serving
Total Fat 2.4 g
Saturated Fat 1.0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.2 g
Monounsaturated Fat 1.1 g
Cholesterol 2.5 mg
Sodium 70.2 mg
Potassium 175.1 mg
Total Carbohydrate 13.4 g
Dietary Fiber 2.1 g
Sugars 9.4 g
Protein 1.8 g
I am sharing this recipe with Marla and Dara for “Get Grillin’ with Family Fresh Cooking and Cookin’ Canuck, sponsored by Ile de France Cheese, Rösle, Emile Henry, Rouxbe and ManPans.” This recipe is also featured at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free for Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays, 6/14/2011.