Maine goes Mediterranean – stuffed eggplant and whelk fritters

Matthew-McConaughey-and-Woody-Harrelson-in-True-Detective-Season-1-Episode-1“True Detective” publicity still… yes, it’s bleak and depressing…

It takes tough recipes to beat tough television…

For professional reasons that may be too convoluted to explain, I’ve been binge-watching a bunch of 8-part TV miniseries mysteries involving distressing levels of depravity and evil-doing, including “True Detective” (Season 1), “Broadchurch,” and “The Missing” – the last two European imports. Among them, “True Detective” is the shining star of brilliant writing, directing, and acting, and is now justly famous for an astonishing 6-minute, uncut tracking shot (a “oner,” as they call it) in Episode 5 crammed with mayhem and shootouts and leaping over fences and whatnot. All in one continuous take — and now widely touted as the best-ever one-take scene in the history of television. Have a look here.

Hat’s off. But the point of all this is that watching these shows about the absolute worst depths of human behavior dumps cortisol and acid into your stomach and attacks one’s appetite. What to do, what to do – foodwise?

Try something outrageously new and fresh! A delectable antidote to the abject futility of the human condition as portrayed in these shows!

(As I just wrote a friend, my tongue got caught in my cheek with the above. All the series I mentioned are very well done, and not as dispiriting as I implied. But they are very much what I call tough television.)

Mediterranean eggplant stuffed with tomato and onion, plus…

Maine whelk fritters!

I want to start with the whelk fritters, because this dish is very local and much stranger than the stuffed eggplant. I wrote about the fritters earlier, but this is a somewhat different recipe, based on a conch fritter recipe, and I know a bit more about whelks now than I did a few weeks ago since I was able to snag three pounds of them at Jess’s Market in Rockland (they told me whelks are now being delivered from lobsterpeople, because of a surge in demand), steam them open, and discover what was lurking inside…

(BTW, three pounds of whelks will give you just the right amount for about a dozen fritters, a bit more than a cup of meat – great for two to four people.)

Here’s the deal: the whelk meats come out roughly in two sections: the edible and delicious muscle/flesh of the monopod, followed by a trail of intestinal stuff that you don’t want to eat. So cut off that part. Also, at the very head of the monopod (I think that’s where it is, but I’m not totally sure) will be a kind of scaly “shoe” or “trap door” that doesn’t soften when steamed, so that too should be lopped off before you throw the meats into a food processor. We didn’t do that. And when the fritters were done and we ate them, we kept picking these scaly shoe/trapdoor thingies from our teeth. They have the size and texture of a complete toenail. Removing toenail-like “foreign matter” from your mouth while watching “True Detective” is as wrong as wrong can be, trust me.

DSC_0157Crispy and flavorful whelk fritters!

Part 1: whelk fritters, recipe # 2

This serves two as a full meal, or four as a side dish. You’ll need:

  • about 3 lbs. whelks to make about 1 1/2 cups whelk meat
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • seasonings: cayenne, Old Bay, pepper, etc. to your taste
  • about 1 qt. oil – we use half canola and half peanut oil.

• First, steam or boil the whelks – about 4-5 minutes in boiling salted water, or a bit longer if steaming. Plunge into cold water. With a tiny fork, remove the meats from the shells, cutting off the tail section that’s all organs of one kind or another. Also, trim off the scaly “shoe” or trap door at the end of the whelk’s “foot.”

• Run the meats through a food processor – 3-4 quick pulses should do it – so that you have small chunks of meat without the mush. Set this aside.

• Now do the same with the onion, pepper, and celery stalks in the processor – enough pulses to dice them.

• Mix the flour, egg, milk, and seasonings in a bowl till well-blended. Add the whelk meats and veggies and blend thoroughly.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, spoon in the whelk batter and turn once with a slotted spoon until nicely browned. Drain on paper towels, and serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce. Watch TV if you want.

Part 2: Mediterranean eggplant stuffed with tomato and onion

Mediterranean cooking is many things, but it’s mostly about fresh ingredients, olive oil, garlic, seafood and lean meats. And it’s good for you, because it avoids butter and dairy and heavy cheeses and animal fat.

This dish is a perfect example of Mediterranean cuisine at its simplest and best, fun to prepare and great to eat when watching nasty television shows. We’ve adapted the recipe from OliveTomato.com, a fine Mediterranean food site.

To feed two hungry people or four not so hungry people, you’ll need:

  • 4 medium eggplants
  • olive oil for frying and drizzling
  • about 3 yellow onions, not too large, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 3 smallish fresh tomatoes, diced, (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • crumbled feta or grated parmesan (optional)

• Preheat oven to 395 degrees.

• Wash the eggplant. Remove most of the stem. Peel parts of the eggplant lengthwise all around so that you have stripes. Cut deep slits on the peel parts, lengthwise. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, like this:

DSC_0001

• Place eggplant in a pan, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and roast for about 1 hour.

• Now get going on the onion mixture. Sauté the chopped onion in a pan with 1/3 cup olive oil until soft. Add the garlic, tomato, parsley and ½ cup water and simmer uncovered for about 15-20 minutes. Add additional water if needed. It might look like this:

DSC_0003

• When the eggplant is cooked, spread open one of the slits and stuff with the onion and tomato mixture. Do this with all the eggplants and place back in the pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Add a bit of water at the base of the pan, roast for about 30 minutes, or until it looks like this:

DSC_0004

• Remove from the oven. Serve warm or at room temperature with feta or parmesan cheese. Maybe it’ll look like this:

DSC_0153(all photos by us)

This dish has a pleasing texture and a gentle blend of simple, clean flavors. Note the near total lack of extra seasonings – it’s salt and pepper and that’s about it. And it pairs very nicely with the whelk fritters!

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Now back to “The Missing” and a parade of scalawags and scoundrels… There you have it.

 

 

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.