PHOTO: Evan Sung Photography
Local honey plus fresh rosemary plus fried eggplant equals bliss.
We just finished up planting another row of eggplant in our garden so we won’t run out of them for Berenjenas La Taberna (aka fried eggplant), a recipe served up by Katie Button, executive chef at Cúrate, a tapas bar in Asheville, N.C. Button co-owns Cúrate with her husband Félix Meana, mom and dad, who each take active roles in this thriving restaurant. Her mouthwatering fried eggplant recipe (featured below) will, no doubt, be in her forthcoming cookbook to be released in 2016.
On a recent trip through Asheville, we had a chance to savor an authentic tapas meal, true to Meana’s heritage growing up in a small town along Spain’s Costa Brava. Together, Button and Meana have quite a talent for crafting a lively dining experience with their open restaurant design, which allows you to see the cooks in action over the stove, observe the wait staff mixing drinks and chat with other diners at the bar.
“Just like in Spain,” Meana affirms, as he puts the final touches on several of the more than 50 tapas on the menu. He serves as the beverage and service director, but when we met him, he was lending a hand at the end of the plating line.
For a restaurant whose name means “cure yourself” in Spanish, food is medicine. Button turns out small plates that are delicious and nourishing works of art—and there’s plenty of evidence of the curative effects of sharing good food and wine with family and friends here.
“We’re not a fusion. We offer classic tapas,” Button says, referring to the small, hot and cold plates of appetizers, often combined to make a meal. “In offering farm-to-table cuisine, we didn’t want to lose those connections to Spanish traditions. It’s about knowing where your products are made, raised or grown. Sometimes that’s immediately local, like for our eggs. Other times, that means working with a farm in Spain that raises a 100-percent pure Iberico pigs, acorn fattened and free range with 3 acres allotted for each pig to roam.”
At Cúrate, you can taste the difference, and with this recipe, you can replicate the tapas experience at home.
Recipe: Berenjenas La Taberna (Fried Eggplant with Rosemary and Honey)
Courtesy Katie Button, Cúrate Tapas Bar, Asheville, N.C.
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 each medium eggplant
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups vegetable oil
- salt to taste
- 1/4 cup local honey
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
Cut tops and bottoms off each eggplant and peel using vegetable peeler or knife. Slice eggplants into 1/2-inch-thick rounds (about 12 slices from one medium-sized eggplant).
Put milk in large container or bowl, and add eggplant as you slice. Use plate to submerge eggplant in milk, if needed. Soak overnight in refrigerator.
The next day, drain eggplant from the milk, dredge in flour and tap off excess flour.
Heat large frying pan with vegetable oil about 1 inch deep until approximately 350 degrees F or when drop of water sizzles. Drop eggplant slices into oil, making sure oil covers them, and fry until golden brown (not too dark). Do not crowd eggplant slices when frying—fry one layer at a time because if slices overlap, they won’t fry evenly. Flip eggplant slices during cooking for even browning. For larger groups you can do this step in batches. They should take about 2 to 3 minutes per side to turn golden brown.
Sprinkle each eggplant slice with pinch of salt when removed from fryer. Drain on wire rack.
Drizzle honey onto fried eggplant slice while on the wire rack, and top with two to three rosemary leaves. Serve immediately.
Add these other appetizers to your recipe box:
- Puff Pastry Appetizer with Asparagus and Cream Cheese Filling
- Loaded Baked Potato Skins
- Herbed Potato Nests
- Shrimp and Mango Jalapeño Poppers