Thanksgiving is just around the weekend, and many poor souls out there have been turned from sweet potatoes (or improperly converted) by the old marshmallow-covered standby of Novembers past. While it may have its charms, there is a place to balance between the cloyingly sweet traditional preparation of sweet potatoes, and the just-the-right-touch of sweet and salty coming together in good mashed sweet potatoes. As versatile as any regular potato, sweet potatoes can be mandolined and laid out in a delicious gratin, sliced into medallions and sauteed or fried, roasted into sweet potato fries or tossed cold into a salad, and mixed with a wide variety of sweet and savory additions ranging from maple syrup to bacon. They go extremely well with steak, sausage, chicken, pork, and, of course, turkey.
So, when I was strolling through the USq. Farmer’s Market on Wednesday, and realized I had yet to eat sweet potatoes this season, I had no choice but to grab some. Luckily for me, at the stand I happened to pick up the potatoes (an idiot for not remembering the name), they happened to have, hiding behind the sign for some other vegetable, a small handfull of beautiful, purply asian eggplant, what I’m sure was the last of the season (southern NJ can, I guess, crank them out after the rest of the Northeast is done). Knowing it might be six months before I tasted eggplant again, I was again left with no choice. Some delicious, thick-cut pork chops from Los Paisanos (Smith St. @ Bergen) were an obvious accompaniment, especially at $4.50 a pound. We had leftovers for sandwiches the next day.
For the Pork:
1/4 c salt
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 tsp fennel seed
Water to cover
Two, 3/4-lb. thick-cut loin chops
Flour for breading
1 sprig rosemary
Salt, Pepper, Chili Powder
For the Sweet Potatoes:
6 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 sprigs thyme
1/2 c hot milk
2 tbsp butter
Splash of maple syrup
Salt, Pepper to taste
For the Eggplant
4 medium-sized purple eggplant, cut in half lengthwise then into 1/4 inch thick semi-circles
1 sprig rosemary
Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper
Pork: Brine the pork chops in the salt, water, garlic, and fennel seed mixture for up to 24 hours. I got home at 5, we ate dinner around 8:30, so I only had them in there for a few hours and they turned out great. Remove, pat dry, and season with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Dredge in flour, then cook in a large saute pan on medium-low heat, so as not to burn the flour, but to brown the pork nicely. Flip occasionally, and cook until the pork is cooked through, adding the rosemary sprigs halfway through (remove before eating) but do not overcook (the pork will dry out easily). A little pink is okay.
Potatoes: As the pork brines (maybe 1/2 hour before you’re planning on eating), boil the sweet potatoes with a little thyme as for regular mashed potatoes until you can pierce straight through them with a fork. Drain, return to pot, and, using your choice of equipment (Potato Ricer, Beater, Potato Masher, slotted spoon/fork if you’re us) beat until smooth, adding the milk, butter, syrup, and seasoning to taste. You can obviously make these potatoes more or less _________ (salty, buttery, sweet, creamy) by increasing or decreasing any of the quantities given.
Eggplant: This is one of the easiest and tastiest ways I know to prepare eggplant. Slice the eggplant into their little half-moons. Get some oil quite hot in a saute pan and lay the eggplant in (don’t crowd), tossing a couple times to coat evenly with oil. They will take a lot of oil, but be careful, you don’t want them to come out drenched and greasy. At a point, the pan may seem dry, but as they cook they will release some liquid and be alright. After tossing to coat, make sure that all of the eggplant are laying broad-cut-side down. Brown nicely for a minute or two, then turn each of the eggplant over (I do it individually with tongs) and brown the other side as well, adding the rosemary. Cook in batches until done (we have a medium-sized pan and this only took me two turns).
To Finish: Slice pork (after letting it rest!) and plate either family-style or individually with some of the goods. Serve with bread and wine, naturally.