Sometimes I make things that don’t look very appetizing. If I’m just making them for myself I don’t put a whole lot of extra effort into making them look pretty, but then in you come, reader, making me add garnishes. I have this feeling you will think I’m a better cook if I add cilantro, for example.
My new favourite thing to do is take part of one dish and use it as the base for another. Like Indian eternal recycling – turning dinner into breakfast, or leftover rice that gets added to new rice, that gets added to new rice, that gets added to new rice, etc. So I knew I wanted to make burritos and hamburgers out of ground meat and I stumbled upon some venison at the Mile End Farmers’ Market. It sounds so much worse when you say “deer” but it’s the same thing. Remember my wontons? Yeah, those were deer too. I bought a pound of the ground stuff (much cheaper than a steak or even a shank since it’s the fatty odds and ends) and put it to work. I used a 1/4 cup for the tomatillo salsa but I wasn’t about to cook up a 1/4 cup of it and put the rest of the raw meat back in the fridge. I cooked it all up and added a tiny bit of salt (actually I messed it up and added salt to all of it instead of just the quarter cup for the salsa…but it was better that way). I had some gorgeous eggplants and I figured one way to liven up eggplant is with ground meat. Moussaka has been getting it right for ages. It’s like Greek Shepherd’s Pie but with bechamel sauce. So I guess they’ve got it better than us, the Greeks.
After cooking the deer (venison) meat in a large pot until it was no longer pink, I removed it from the pot and added some water to unstick the remaining meat. Normally I do this and just let it sit until I wash up, but I figured I was going to boil the eggplant anyway (my new favourite eggplant technique from VietWorldKitchen) so might as well use the same pot. I brought the water to a boil, stuck the eggplant in and let it boil away.
Now venison is a very lean meat, so even the ground meat isn’t that fatty. I didn’t really need to press the fat out of it, so I just removed it to some paper towels. I boiled the eggplant whole until the skin changed colour on all sides (this only happens when the eggplant is completely submerged so you have to turn it halfway through), removed it from the water/fat and let it cool before peeling.
Apparently eggplant skin is not very thick (though I haven’t tried insulting it lately), so the fat from the deer soaked through into the flesh, making it a little more slimy. This is a very good thing. It adds a tiny bit of flavour, but it adds a lot of the oily texture of Indian bharta that I love with all my heart. I usually mash my eggplant but this time I just sliced it into big chunks and topped it with some ground venison and cilantro. This is very plain. Just salt and cilantro for spices, so I sprinkled it with my chaat masala whose mango powder gave the dish a little punch. Then I added some puréed swiss chard (for a little more bitter green) and I don’t remember why I had onions cooked at the time in tomatoes, but I did. It made a strange-looking meal with my sourdough raisin bread from the Plateau Market (my new highlight of the week from LaPerle et son Boulanger) but it was so filling. Eggplant is like baby food and there’s a comforting quality to it. The swiss chard is so good for you and bitter, the chew comes from the venison and the toughter chew (or crunch if you toast it) comes from the bread.
None of these things are hamburgers or burritos but I’m getting to that.