Drought Friendly Recipe – Roasted Eggplant Caponata
It’s time for another drought friendly recipe.
On March 18, Super Sous and I wrote a blog post about the California Drought and introduced the idea of Drought Friendly Recipes. These are recipes that use foods with a low water footprint. (Lower than some of the heavier hitting foods, like California nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, pistachios) and anything related to the California beef/cattle industry.)
The premise of this idea is that between 74-80% of all water (figures vary) in California is used for agriculture and 50% of all our agriculture is exported to feed the rest of the country, so we are all affected by this drought and we can all help conserve California water.
This week, California’s Governor Jerry Brown announced mandatory cuts to water use for the residential users of California’s water. (A reduction of 25%) And while every drop counts and Californian’s pull up their grass to install drought tolerant plants and restaurants stop serving water to patrons unless requested, what is being done to address the 80% of water use?
California farming/commodities is a 46.4 billion dollar industry with 1/3 of that amount being attributed to milk & cream, grapes and almonds crops.
Let’s take a brief moment to reminisce. What happened to the days of the good ole peanut? Peanut butter, peanuts on a your salad? Virginia grown peanuts? You know… think back about 5-10 years ago. California almonds use 9-10% of California’s agriculture water. Almonds trees need to be watered year round. I love almonds like the next person, but in a time of extreme drought, how many almonds do we need to be eating? Some figures state that it takes about a gallon of water to produce 1 almond. In our original blog post, Super Sous and I gave the global water footprint number (from the Water Footprint Organization) which is 1,927 gallons of water for 1 pound of almonds. Upon tweeting this from @chefnathanlyon Twitter account, the California Almond board and I had this conversation:
So… until that number is produced, I think we can safely say that it takes a lot of water to produce a pound of almonds.
I think the real / underlying question is – where is the oversight in our agriculture and water system here in California? Who is looking at the big picture view? Certainly, no one wants a small farmer/family business, regardless of the crop, to go under because of this drought (which sadly is already happening). California grows over 400 crops. It’s a wonderful thing… if you have water.
If you own a farm which has access to groundwater that hasn’t dried out and/or has access to reservoir water and can afford the water, then you are green-light-go. If you own a farm that has no ground water or access to reservoir water or you can’t afford the water, then your fields will go fallow. Anyone can choose to plant any crop on their land. There is no one saying that we need x amount of wheat or x amount of nuts from California to feed the world. In times of extreme drought, should there be? And should Governor Brown give restrictions to farmers? Should farmers also be subjected to a 25% reduction of water?
Jon Stewart from The Daily Show addressed this very issue the other night:
Regardless of restrictions, we need to have a ready supply of water in California if we want to keep California agriculture a thriving business. We need a solution.
So really – when are we going to start talking about a water pipeline or desalination. Every time these ideas come up, the phrase “so expensive” follows suit. Isn’t it more expensive for California to lose its 46.4 billion dollar industry? Or for residents to run out of water (which has already happened in some towns)? Or for the United States to have to import more food internationally?
In the meantime, every bite we take counts in conservation. So, enjoy our latest drought friendly recipe. It’s a Roasted Eggplant Caponata. My take on the classic Sicilian eggplant dish chock full of cooked, sweet veggies. Pairs well with pasta, toasted baguette, over a bed of greens or with a bowl and your favorite spoon. No nuts needed.
Roasted Eggplant Caponata
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 large Italian eggplant, peeled and diced medium (approximately 7 to 8 cups)
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and diced small (2 cups)
7 tablespoons of grapeseed oil, divided
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced (1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
¼ teaspoon crushed red chile pepper (chile flakes), or to taste
1 fennel bulb, diced small (1 cup)
1 large red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cored and diced small (1¼ cup)
1 (14-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, and chopped roughly
1 cup green olives, pits removed and chopped roughly
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
⅓ cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
7 medium-sized fresh basil leaves, stacked, rolled and sliced very thinly
Adjust two oven racks to the middle position, then preheat the oven to 450ºF.
In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with 3 tablespoons of oil, and season well with salt and pepper.
Spread out the eggplant in one layer onto two parchment paper-lined sheet pans. Roast, uncovered, in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the sheet pans from the oven, stir the eggplant, then place the sheet pans back in the oven, this time on opposite racks. Bake 15 minutes more, until the eggplants are lightly colored and cooked through.
After the eggplant has been cooking for 15 minutes, stir the diced onion with ¼ cup of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, translucent, and lightly caramelized.
Next, stir in the garlic, cumin, ground fennel, and chile flakes and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.
Add the diced fennel and the bell pepper and cook until they begin to soften, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, capers, olives, vinegar and baked eggplant. Cook until the caponata has thickened, approximately 15 minutes, then remove from the heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the parsley and basil.
Serve and enjoy.