British chef Russell Norman has a longstanding affair with the cuisine of New York City — just pop into his Soho (London) diner and see for yourself, or pick up a copy of his new book, Spuntino: Comfort Food, named for the restaurant where it all happens.
This eggplant fries dish has been on the menu at Spuntino since day one and is a much-requested recipe. For me, it’s a dish about contrasts. The hot eggplant fries versus the cool yogurt. The crunchy sesame coating versus the soft center. The smoky flavor of the eggplant versus the aniseed tang of the fennel. You can have fun with the presentation of this dish, too, by using a shot glass for the fennel yogurt and then stacking the fries around or to the side.
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 eggplants
- Scant 1/2 cup plain flour
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 3-4 medium eggs
- Heaping 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- 4 1/4 cups vegetable oil, for deep frying
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- Heaping 3/4 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Large pinch of flaky sea salt
- Pinch of black pepper
For the fries
First of all, toast the coriander and fennel seeds for both the aubergine and the yogurt. Put them all — 3 teaspoons of each — in a nonstick frying pan and dry fry over a medium heat for a few minutes, until you can smell their spiciness. Do keep an eye on them, as they can easily burn. Remove from the heat, then grind in a pestle and mortar.
Now make the fennel yogurt. Take 2 teaspoons of the ground seeds and combine with the rest of the fennel yogurt ingredients. Put it in the fridge.
Cut the eggplant into thick 5-inch-long fries.
Now take three bowls. Mix the flour, salt and pepper in the first. In the second bowl, beat the eggs. Mix together the bread crumbs, the remaining ground coriander and fennel seeds and the sesame seeds in the third bowl. Dip the eggplant fries in the flour, coating well. Shake off any excess and then place in the egg wash, shaking off any drips, and then coat well with the bread crumbs. Set aside at room temperature, not in the fridge, if not cooking straightaway.
Heat the vegetable oil in a medium pan to 375ºF (or until a cube of bread dropped in the oil turns golden brown in less than a minute). Now fry the coated eggplant fries, in batches, for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Lift out, drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with a little salt. Serve hot with the chilled fennel yogurt.