Eggplant Napoleon

It seems that anything baked in thin layers interspersed with something creamy is nowadays labeled Napoleon. I’ve met – and duplicated! – beet napoleon, zucchini napoleon, even pumpkin napoleon (didn’t like the latter, though). Contrary to a popular belief, the name does not honor the French Emperor. Or maybe it does, after all, in a roundabout way? Let’s see.

Name version #1. Known as mille-feuilles (a thousand leaves), it was developed in France in the second half of 19th century. Napoleon Bonaparte was already dead on St Helene, the Restoration was striving to erase both his name and his deeds, and generally, the entire Europe was sick of wars and heroic battles. There is no chance that this delicious dessert would have been named after “the little corporal” and his meteoric rise to power at the expense of thousands of deaths. A thousand leaves sounded a thousand times better!

Name version #2. The pastry was invented by a Danish chef on the occasion of a state visit between Emperor Napoleon and King Frederick of Denmark. In this version, it is indeed named after the emperor, and the chocolate glaze on top is supposed to make multiple letters N. This seems a little far-fetched; however, Napoleon Hats cookies (very cute marzipan balls encased in triangle-shaped cookie “hats”) are still very popular in Denmark.

Name version #3. It’s not Napoleon at all, but napolitain, that is, made in Naples, Italy.  It is, claim the Neapolitan chefs, an ancient dessert made in the ancient traditions of Neapolitan cuisine known for contrasts, combining sweet and savory, firm and gooey (they invented pizza, you know!), and, in this case, flaky dough and creamy custard. It’s a case of simple mispronunciation!

Name version #4. We’ve met this guy before – the famous traveling chef Marie-Antoine Careme.  He appears in France and in Russia, creating a Charlotte (to see my Apple Charlotte recipe, click here).  He pops up in England (for Meatless Macaroni a la Sailor, click here).  Now he is in Italy, where the newly appointed King of Naples, A.K.A. Marshal Joachim Murat, is wining and dining his illustrious brother-in-law, Emperor Napoleon of France, A.K.A. The Little Corporal.

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There is an anecdote about the relationship between the two of them. Murat, called The Dandy King, cutting a tall and splendid figure in his royal finery, jokingly remarked to Napoleon, “Your Majesty, I stand higher than you by a full head.” “Not higher, but simply taller, retorted The Emperor, – and this difference can very quickly be eliminated.”

Incidentally, Napoleon Bonaparte was not really short, even by today’s standards, and “the little corporal” nickname refers to his rank in the beginning of his rise to power, rather than his height.  He stood 5’7″, but Murat, who really was “a full head” taller, got the hint and hastened to make nice. Enter Chef Careme who gets a secret message from King Murat to create a Neapolitan pastry with a French twist and twist the name as well. He refines the pastry itself and adds the icing on top. Viola! Napoleon pastry is born, it becomes Napoleon’s favorite, and he eats so much of it on the eve of Waterloo that he loses the battle. I did not make this one up!  

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And what does eggplant have to do with all of that?  Oh well, if we can do beet, zucchini, and pumpkin napoleons, why not eggplant? Especially since I got those cute striped egg type oriental eggplants, and was itching to play with them. They were too small to make eggplant rollatini or Georgian stuffed eggplant roll-ups, so I decided to combine all these ideas into one dish. Georgian roll-ups are usually stuffed with walnuts, garlic, and cilantro – easy stuff!

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Eggplant needs to be sliced paper-thin without peeling. It’s “one thousand leaves” after all, that we are trying to imitate. Then it needs to be tossed with salt, making sure that it is generously covered with salt on both sides, and put aside for about 20 minutes. Salt will take the bitterness out of it.

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Meanwhile, you can get the stuffing ready. Pulverize walnuts, garlic, and cilantro in a food processor until you get a creamy mass. Add a splash of wine vinegar, cinnamon and cumin, and season with salt and pepper. Keep mixing until you get a really creamy consistency. We are trying to imitate custard.

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Rinse eggplant “leaves” really well, gently squeezing them to get rid of both bitterness and salt. Pat dry with a paper towel. Fry them on medium heat, oil-misted pan for no more than a minute on each side. Make sure not to crowd them inside the frying pan as the thinner they are, the more fragile thy tend to get. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to blot out excess oil.

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To assemble napoleon, lightly mist a baking dish with oil. Place eggplant “leaves” on the bottom, overlapping them so as to create a full layer.

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Spread the creamy stuffing and sprinkle with sumac. If you don’t have sumac, a few drops of lemon juice will do the trick; however, lemon does not add color the way sumac does. Keep layering, making sure the top layer is eggplant. 

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Generously sprinkle with more cilantro, cover and bake on middle rack for about 20 minutes. Alternatively, if you want to serve it on Friday night, assemble it and put it in the oven right before Shabbos. By the time you get to it, the flavors of stuffing permeate the layers of eggplant, the unpeeled skin gets dry and crusty, and the perfect balance of flaky and creamy is achieved.

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Garnished with some cilantro sprigs and walnut halves, it makes a delicious salad or side dish, whether cold, warm, or hot.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium size eggplants or 4 egg-type eggplants
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 3 – 4 large garlic cloves
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon or more light wine vinegar
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • Pinch of cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sprinkle of sumac or lemon juice

PROCEDURE

  • Slice eggplants lengthwise as thin as possible, generously cover with salt on both sides, put aside for 20 minutes.
  • Place walnuts, garlic, and 3/4 cup of cilantro in food processor, pulse until creamy consistency. Scrape the sides as necessary. Transfer from food processor to a bowl, add wine vinegar, cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix until well blended and creamy, add more vinegar if needed. Put aside.
  • Preheat large frying pan to medium, mist with oil. Wash eggplant slices well, squeezing gently. Blot dry with paper towels.
  • Place into frying pan, allowing space between slices. Fry on each side for about 1 minute until sides start curling. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to blot out excess oil.
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Mist baking dish with oil, layer eggplant, spread stuffing between layers, sprinkle sumac on top of stuffing before the next eggplant layer. Generously sprinkle chopped cilantro over top layer of eggplant.
  • Cover tightly, bake on middle rack for 20 minutes.
  • Garnish with cilantro sprigs and walnut halves.

Enjoy!

 

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37 Comments Add yours

  1. This looks very interesting! I love the seasoning. I only just discovered sumac since I started blogging.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As long as you can get kosher sumac, which is not always easy. We have to bring it from New York.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I live in the Tristate area. And, in Toronto, there a quite a few Sephardic Jews now.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Then it should be easy for you. It’s a great spice, add lemony flavor and bright red color.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am still exploring it. Naturally, Raizel loves it and she looks for all kinds of reasons why we need to add it to things. It’s very funny.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I hope you are letting her do it! Raizel must be a very sensory girl, and of all senses, taste is the one that provides most comfort. If it combines with a visual appreciation, it should make her content. And if she is the author of it, it will make her feel accomplished. In my school, we used to have “cook offs”, and in camp, weekly international food festivals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What is visual appreciation? She has difficulty with visual memory, so she touches things a lot, especially in unfamiliar settings. She happens to be very good at coming up with recipes. She has a knack for what goes well with what. I tend to listen to her, because often she is right! In her own way, she enjoys the blog, and tells me when something is post-worthy. She also likes cooking shows, which fortunately are very wholesome.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s absolutely wonderful! That’s her sensory part of the brain working, and it’s great! A friend of mine has a younger sister who had been a special needs child and whose greatest pleasure was hanging around the kitchen. When she grew up, she opened a very successful catering business, has been operating it for almost 30 years now. It might be a good opportunity for the future. Visual appreciation means getting pleasure from combinations of colors, shapes, and textures, on a subconscious level. It has nothing to do with memory, but rather with sensory centers.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hmmm. I will have to investigate. Right now we are learning how to wash dishes. That has been quite a process. Lots of steps involved.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Sequences of steps will always be challenging. How are her fine motor skills?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Thought so. Is there an OT working with her?

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Oh yes. Thank God. She has a lot of support and we are working very hard with her.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. It’ll come, gradually. You are really doing a great parenting job – I am very impressed! Try to teach her sequences in three steps at a time, make her repeat (“rehearse”) each sequence 21 consecutive times, then add another sequence. It could be 21 days, once a day, but it must be routine, without a gap.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My pleasure, but it’s not my idea. It’s a tried and true method, and the 21 – times research was done way back in the 80’s.

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    1. I love it! Thank you for mentioning me, and thank you for the new idea.

      Like

  5. Reblogged this on koolkosherkitchen and commented:

    Dear Beautiful People, I’ve been asked whether I had any interesting eggplant recipes, so I thought this was interesting enough to be repeated.

    Like

  6. Julie Zimmer says:

    Yumster! This looks so good! I’m never successful with making something with eggplants but now I’m tempted to give this recipe go! Eggplant milles-feuille! Wonderful, the more the better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh come on, Julie! You can make anything out of anything, and this one is easy! It’s just my take on Georgian cuisine, and I love Georgian cuisine. Go for it and let me know, please. Thank you for the compliment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Julie Zimmer says:

        I love your reply! No seriously, my eggplant cuisine sucks! My parents never cooked with eggplants, maybe that’s why! It’s a learning process….

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Life is learning process! My grandmother never saw a mango, an avocado, or a papaya, let alone all the cute Indian veggies and fantastic spices I like to experiment with. So what!Be daring!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks so much for this lovely write-up about the humble eggplant ( one of my favourites and always present in my dad’s veggie garden). I am definitely trying out your recipe. Fortunately, my husband also loves eggplant and I’m sure he will love this dish! I’m reblogging this post to my blog, because I’m convinced that many of the authors in my club will also be glad to read about and try it for themselves. 🤓

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! It’s really very easy to make, so good luck, and please let me know how it comes out. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I will! I’ll only get to a market this weekend, but I’m looking forward to making them. Years ago an Italian friend gave my mom a recipe for making an antipasti with eggplant and I’m ashamed to tell you that I loved the first jar so much that I probably ate most of them, but I no longer have the recipe. Yours however, jolted my memory as far as cutting the eggplant very finely and sprinkle generously with salt seem to be one of the steps of making the dish. I’m sure they didn’t cook it. Kind regards. I’ll let you know how it turned out. 🤓

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good luck,dear, and have fun with it!

        Like

      3. I’ll try to do it as well as you do! 😜

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Do it as well as YOU do and enjoy! 🙂

        Like

  8. Reblogged this on MarethMB and commented:
    I’m such a fan and I’m definitely making this asap! Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This dish looks very delicious, Dolly 🙂 I’m in for trying too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear Irene! It’s really easy to make, too. Let me know how it comes out, please.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I will, Dolly 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. lghiggins says:

    I love all the possibilities with regards to the name “Napoleon” and I am glad it will forever remain a mystery. Great post. Such fun, as usual!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! Life is fun, and my aim is to share it with others in everything I do.

      Liked by 1 person

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