Vegantine’s Day: Eggplant Stuffed Crêpes with Pomegranate Glazed Beet and Parsley Salad

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!  Here at the Choosy Beggars, we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day with a bit of a twist. Instead of turning to some of our go-to favorites, like rich red meat, tender seafood and enough butter to give even Paula Dean a small seizure, we needed a bit of a challenge this year and opted to go a different route.  This year, we’re welcoming Cupid (the little bastard) into our home with arms wide open and a spread of titillating, moreish, accessible but intriguing vegan dishes that are designed to make even the blackest heart feel warm.  For anyone who thinks that vegan food isn’t sexy, it is our mission to prove you wrong…one dish at a time. And only until this is over, because I although Mike has been avidly eating vegan food for the last 2 weeks or so, I promised him a big rare steak when all is said and done.

For our Vegantine’s menu, crafting the first two courses was easy enough. However, I almost hit a wall when it came to the entree.  You see, omnivores tend to center a special dinner around one particular meat with a starch and several vegetable side dishes.  Not convinced? Think of Thanksgiving; roast turkey with all the trimmings. There is also the Easter ham, or supper club Prime Rib Roast.  Vegetarian and vegan cuisine often doesn’t center celebratory meals around a single protein, but relies on multiple tastes, textures, flavors, and often several small courses to whet the appetite.  As we brainstormed, it seemed that all of my easy and familiar options were getting crossed off the list.  We couldn’t rely on chickpeas or beans, because our appetizer was stuffed with a white bean puree.  It couldn’t be a breaded and fried cauliflower steak in a lemon and caper sauce, because if you were to puree that, essentially, you would have our starter soup.  It couldn’t be a ‘steak’ of tofu or tempeh, because I love my husband and value a relationship which would inevitably get rocky if his “Super Romantic Valentine’s Day Dinner” included tofu in any way, shape, or form.

Inspiration comes in strange places, and this time it happened as Mike and I shared a delicious Winterlicious lunch with my parents at a classic French restaurant in Toronto, Auberge du Pommier. Although there was cassoulet on the menu (slow braised lamb/pork with tender beans? Yes please!) I opted for the vegetarian option, which was Crêpe aux Champignons et Brie (mushroom and Brie crêpes with creamed leeks, oyster mushrooms and a tarragon Mornay sauce) because there’s just something so luscious and decadent about a savory crêpe.  It was absolutely delicious and got me thinking about how to capture the creamy richness and umami flavor of these crêpes, but vegan styles.  Silky eggplant was an easy win, but the crêpes themselves took a bit of guess-and-test until we finally had the perfectly thin, light and airy but still substantial texture that we were looking for….and all without milk or eggs, which are the two key ingredients in a traditional crêpe.

I used to find crêpes to be rather daunting, until I learned that all it takes is the right pan and a minimal amount of practice to craft reliably delicious and perfectly cooked thin ‘pancakes’ (note: I don’t actually consider crêpes to be even in the same family as a pancake, unless they are the city mouse cousin of banjo wielding country mouse kin).  If you find crêpes to be intimidating, or you’ve had a bad experience in the past, suspend your disbelief for just a moment or two because with a minimal amount of technique a perfect crêpe (and a vegan one at that!) is absolutely attainable.  Also, if you’re not a professional chef, it is absolutely normal to have a mishap with your first (or even last)  crêpe, so the recipe below is robust enough to allow us to fail and still save face with at least 8 beautiful crêpes left for a fancy and romantic dinner. Also worthy of note, most of the elements in this dish can be made in advance and assembled right before dinner, which means that you don’t need to worry that things might get hairy in the kitchen at T minus 30 minutes to dinner, because you can work at your own pace a few days in advance. After all, frenetic stress is not romantic, so give yourself a break when you can do a bit of the prep work in advance.

Eggplant Stuffed Crêpes with Pomegranate Glazed Beet and Parsley Salad

Serves 4 as a light meal

Crêpes

  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup soy flour *
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened soy milk
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or grapeseed oil
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Eggplant Stuffing

  • 2 large Italian eggplant (2 kg/4.5 lb)
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 4 chubby cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch beet greens OR kale
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1/2 lemon, juice only
  • small handful mint (3-4 tbsp chopped)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Pomegranate Glazed Beet and Parsley Salad

  • 3 large beets (675 g/1.5 lb)
  • 1.5 cups pomegranate juice **
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • 2″ knob ginger
  • 1 clove garlic
  • medium bunch parsley (1 cup coarsely chopped)
  • 3/4 cup walnut pieces (100 g/3 oz)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

* Soy flour comes in two forms, and one is slightly coarser and has a stronger flavor. Ideally, you want the variety which is finer and milder, often sold by the moniker of “soy powder”.  If you cannot find soy flour, feel free to substitute with another high protein legume flour, such as besan (chickpea flour). Quinoa or spelt flour can also be used but the crepes will be slightly denser and heavier.

** Pure pomegranate juice can sometimes be pricey. Pomegranate molasses is basically condensed pomegranate juice but sometimes has other stabilizers or thickeners added. If you can’t purchase pomegranate juice, you can dissolve 1/3 cup pomegranate molasses in 4/3 cups warm water and use this instead.

Pre-heat the oven to 425ºF.  Not for the crêpes, but we’ll need it in a minute.

Starting with the crêpe batter, whisk together the dry ingredients of soy and all purpose flour, baking powder and salt.

Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the vegetable oil. Begin whisking as you pour in the soy milk and water.  When the consistency is smooth and lump free, it should have the texture of thick/whipping cream as opposed to a pancake batter.  Thin and delicate always wins the crêpe race!

Set the crêpe batter aside to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

In the mean time, put the whole eggplants onto an ungreased baking sheet and pop them into the center of your oven to roast for 40-50 minutes or until they’re charred on the outside and squishy when gently pressed. Turn the eggplants over just once about halfway through the baking so that they cook evenly. This, of course, is an instruction for the multitaskers who are doing everything on the same day.  Don’t worry, you’re in good company, if I don’t say so myself.

Making crêpes is fairly simple as long as you have the right tools. You don’t need a fancy French crêpe pan, but do start with an 8-9″ heavy duty non-stick skillet or very well seasoned cast iron pan.  Use a small square of paper towel to wipe the inside of the pan with a little bit of oil before setting it over medium heat.

When the pan is hot, take a small ladle (or half ladle, depending on size) of batter and pour it in a circular motion into the pan. Working quickly, lift the pan off the heat and tilt it to swirl the batter around until it coats the bottom of the pan in a fairly even, thin layer.  Let the crepe cook for 1-2 minutes until the edges are starting to crisp up and pull away from the pan.

Use a thin plastic spatula to work around the outside of the crepe and lift it off the pan, then slide it underneath the crêpe until it is fully loosened and flip it over.  Cook the other side for 30-45 seconds.  You don’t want to overcook the crêpes or they’ll become brittle and dry.

A few troubleshooting tips for crêpe making;

  • If your batter is sticking, wipe the skillet in between crêpes with a paper towel moistened with vegetable oil, or coat with a very thin layer of non-stick spray.  The crêpes will stick if your cast iron isn’t well seasoned, or your non-stick, well, isn’t actually.
  • There should be enough batter to make 10 or 11 crêpes, which allows for a few mishaps. Don’t beat yourself up if the first crêpe looks like a dog’s breakfast.
  • If your heat is too low then the crepe will dry out. You can tell because it will be golden throughout on the bottom side and stiff or brittle when you try to flip it. If it’s too hot, the crepe will burn and you’ll see small bubbly char marks. Keep the pan on a moderate heat and turn it down or up to get the results that you need.
  • Less is more when it comes to crêpe batter. Even if you choose to do more small crêpes that are an even thickness, that’s better than having 6 monster crêpes that are thick and doughy. Dough is not sexy, and I refuse to think of crêpes as “thin pancakes”, because they’re far more ethereal than that.

The crêpes can be made in advance and either covered with a tea towel until ready to use, or frozen between sheets of waxed paper for up to 3 months.

See? Making crêpes isn’t so bad, right? But now that the pesky or worrisome things are out of the way, let’s move on to the beet and parsley garnish.

In the picture you may see pine nuts, but don’t believe it. Sometimes I lie. For this dish, it’s earthy and musky walnuts all the way.

Peel the beets (you may want to wear gloves, or pay the price of having Rainbow Brite fingertips for the next week) and slice them into 1/4″ discs.

Peel the ginger and cut it into slabs. Peel the garlic but leave the clove intact.

Arrange the beets, ginger, garlic clove and cumin seeds in a fairly large skillet or sauce pan. Pour the pomegranate juice over everything, and there should be enough that the liquid almost comes up to the top of the beets. Turn the heat onto medium until the liquid comes to a simmer, and then cover the pan with a lid. Turn the heat to medium low and let it simmer away for 45 – 60 minutes. Periodically, turn the beets in the pan so that the ones at the bottom are now on top and they are cooking evenly.

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Your oven is hot, so take advantage of that to do the nuts. Spread the walnut pieces out in an even layer on a baking sheet and tuck them into the oven for 2-3 minutes, or until they’re golden and fragrant. Do keep an eye on the nuts, because they go from golden to burnt and unusable in the blink of an eye.  As soon as the nuts are toasted, scrape them off the pan and into a bowl so that they don’t continue cooking with residual pan heat. “Pan heat” is always a bummer.

The walnuts can be toasted 2-3 days in advance, or frozen for up to 3 months with no ill affects.  I usually keep nuts in my freezer instead of the pantry to keep them fresh, and toasted nuts are just as reliable as raw.

The beets are simmering, the crêpes are crêppy, and by now your eggplant has likely come out of the oven.

To make the eggplant filling, start by mincing the onion and 4 garlic cloves. In a fairly large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat and saute away until the onions are golden and sweet. Stir regularly and keep the heat low enough that the garlic does not brown or burn.

Dice the stems of the beet greens (or kale) into 1/2″ chunks. Add them to the onions and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes or until the stalks are tender but al dente.

Chop the leaves from your beet greens into small but rough pieces (each no more than 1″ square) and saute for just a minute until the greens start to wilt.

Slit open the eggplants and scoop out all the flesh into your pan, as well as any accumulated juices. Sprinkle the cocoa powder, cinnamon, cumin and red pepper flakes evenly around the pan.

With the pan on medium-low heat, begin to mash the eggplant gently with the back of your spoon.  Dollop in the tahini and stir until it is well incorporated.  The eggplant should be evenly dispersed and almost like a chunky baba ganouj with vibrant crimson and green running through it from the greens. Also, unless you chose to use kale instead of beet greens, the dish will start to turn a little bit pink. I say, don’t worry about that. If there is one good time for pink food, it has to be Valentine’s Day.  Ahem.  Vegantine’s Day. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.  Keep the pan warm (turn heat to minimum and cover with a lid) until everything is ready to be assembled.

The beets have been braising away for almost an hour and the pomegranate juice is largely absorbed or evaporated, leaving only a scant tablespoon or two of condensed flavor (exactly like pomegranate molasses) in the bottom of the pan.  Remove the beets from the heat and discard the garlic and ginger.  Let the beets cool.

When the beets are cool enough to handle, dice each disc evenly into 1/4″ squares. If you’re wondering why we’re doing this now instead of when we simmered the beets, it’s because I like aesthetics and want the edges of each beet cube to stay nice and straight for a clean look.  Put the beets into a medium sized non-reactive glass bowl.  Toss the beets with the olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

This is another step that you can do in advance, because the well dressed beets will have absolutely no adverse reaction to being left in the fridge a day or two in advance. Bring them up to room temperature, however, before continuing with the salad.

Coarsely chop the parsley and add to the diced beets.

Finish the eggplant filling right before serving by squeezing in the juice of 1/2 lemon (a scant 1.5-2 tbsp) and stirring in 3-4 tablespoons of minced fresh mint. Taste the filling and adjust the salt and pepper as you see fit.

To serve the crepes, spread 1/8 of the filling along the center of each crepe and roll it up like a tortilla.  With 2 crepes on a plate, dollop 1/4 of the beet and parsley mixture over top and sprinkle with a handful of the toasted walnut pieces.

The eggplant interior is smooth and creamy in these light crepes, with a spicy and exotic undertone from the sesame based tahini, cumin, cinnamon and cocoa flavors. For a vegan dish, these little crepes actually taste quite rich, which is where the balance from that bright, tangy pomegranate and beet salad comes through, with heaps of fresh parsley, as is the Middle Eastern way. A topping of buttery browned walnuts, and you have the flavors of Syria wrapped up in a little French bundle, just for your enjoyment.

Vegantine’s Day started with creamy white bean stuffed piquillo peppers over an orange and dill tapenade, and moved on to a luscious spice roasted cauliflower soup with frizzled caper “croutons” and a honeyed cilantro swirl. By the time your beloved vegan beau gets to these Middle Eastern inspired eggplant crepes with their fresh and tangy beet salad, complemented by rich, musky toasted walnuts, you’ll have to open a window with the romance so thick in the air.

But what would a romantic dinner be without dessert? Stay tuned, for a post-Valentine’s Day dessert (sorry, I’ve been slacking) that is deceptively simple with only 4 ingredients, but will knock your socks so far off that they’ll land under the bed, which is exactly where they should be.

  • http://www.eatatburp.com lo

    These look simply fantastic! And nothing says Valentine’s Day to me more than beets, what can I say?

    Happy V-Day, guys!