So, here’s what I will readily admit. Making a soufflé for a dinner party can be tricky business, whether you’re a chef or a home cook.
However, decades ago I discovered a soufflé that is pretty much foolproof and even time forgiving. In fact, it even survives as delicious leftovers. I first made the Eggplant Soufflé from The Vegetarian Epicure when I was just out of college and living in a fifth-floor walk up in Manhattan. My mom had bought me a soufflé dish at Bloomingdale’s, among other “necessary” kitchen items to help me get started with my first solo apartment. I stared at that white dish a lot–but used it to serve salad. No way was I going to make an actual soufflé. That was big league cooking. It was scary stuff. But I pulled out The Vegetarian Epicure and that particular recipe with the eggplant, perhaps my favorite vegetable, intrigued me. I stared it down. I decided this was the time to conquer that mountain.
And it turned out that the recipe was straight-forward, reliable, and produced a divine cloud of cheesy eggplant that my friends and I scarfed down. Let’s face it: In the late 70s and early 80s, it was oh-so-sophisticated a dish for a new college grad to mak– and I did it.
Younger cooks may not be familiar with this cookbook since The Vegetarian Epicure dates back to the early ’70s. I fondly embrace it as part of a moment in time along with The Whole Earth Catalog and Our Bodies, Ourselves. Yet, it stands out as one of the few vegetarian cookbooks of its day that actually had great recipes. Today everyone’s talking about–with justification–Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Plenty More. But I think The Vegetarian Epicure deserves a revival.
I thought about all this a awhile ago when a friend of mine, a wonderful cook and cookbook writer, Kathy Strahs, posted a piece on Facebook about her challenges in making a soufflé and I responded by bringing up this recipe and book. Then I thought, “Wait a sec. It’s been decades since I’ve made this. I wonder if it holds up all these years later.”
So, I pulled out the much worn book, which opened directly to the recipe, and gave it a try. And, yes, my friends, it’s still as forgiving and fabulous as ever. The flavor is smooth, the texture rich and creamy. It’s not loud and bold. It’s actually a kind of comfort food.
So, I feel the need to share this with you, in case you, too, have been intimidated by the idea of making a soufflé–or think they’re passé. What I realized is that it is a great recipe for personal chefs to make for vegetarian clients who want a catered dinner party. And it’s a great recipe for those of you who also teach cooking classes. Here is a true confidence booster for home cooks, including kids, who may assume that soufflés are a guaranteed fail.
Now, I really don’t change a thing in this recipe (okay, I do add an extra clove of garlic and cook it up in a larger saucepan than called for, but that’s it). But one thing I did come up with years ago was a spicy tomato relish to accompany it.
The relish is simple: fresh chopped tomatoes, julienned fresh basil, a diced jalapeño, diced red onion, minced garlic, sea salt, and a dash of balsamic vinegar. You may not think this soufflé/relish combo works, but I love it still. It brings the punch I like to an otherwise mild, comforting dish. These days, I also appreciate that the soufflé is low carb and low fat.
From The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas
1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb.)
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. butter
1 small clove garlic, put through a press
2 Tbs. flour
1 cup milk
2 to 3 oz. fresh-gated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
3 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
Bake the eggplant in a pie dish in a 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until the pulp is soft. Cool it under running water so that you can handle it, then split it in half and let the excess water drain out. Scrape out all the pulp and mash it well. Season it with a teaspoon of salt.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan [note: use something larger since all the ingredients will go into it.]. Stir in the flour and let the roux cook for a few minutes.
Heat the milk slightly and beat it into the roux with a whisk. When the sauce thickens, remove it from the heat and stir in the grated cheese and the eggplant pulp. Season with black pepper. Finally, add the egg yolks, lightly beaten.
Add a pinch of cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat them with a whisk until they are quite stiff but not yet dry. Stir about a third of the egg whites into the eggplant mixture thoroughly. Gently fold in the remaining whites.
Pile the mixture into a buttered 6-cup soufflé dish and place it gently into a preheated, 350-degree oven. Bake the soufflé about 45 to 50 minutes and serve at once.
Do you have an “impossible” dish that is actually very accessible for clients and cooking class students?
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