Not too long ago, I read A. M. Homes’s This Book Will Save Your Life. It didn’t. Or, if it did, I didn’t notice.
The not noticing of my reading experience is one thing this BBQ recipe has in common with A. M. Homes’s novel: it’s eggplant– that sometimes bitter, little loved nightshade– but you don’t notice; eating it, you (mostly) (I think) just notice BBQ. This is important and also related to the second reason why this BBQ recipe is like A. M. Homes’s This Book Will Save Your Life: in the novel, the main character, Richard Novak, suddenly finds meaning in his life through enacting a series of good deeds for others (sends his housekeeper on vacation, stops a kidnapping), and though it’s not exactly on par with releasing a naked woman from a trunk, I was especially gratified to find this recipe because I have a dear friend who loves BBQ, but, alas, is a vegetarian. BBQ being, traditionally, such a meat-centered food, my friend thought her BBQ days were over.
But here it is, completely vegetarian BBQ, even easily made vegan. Homemade BBQ sauce caramelized onto slowly oven roasted eggplant, just spicy and bone-sticking enough to take the chill off the cooling end-of-summer evenings. For the vegetarians dying for BBQ.
BBQ Eggplant Sandwiches
Note(s): This recipe comes from a blog called The Chubby Vegetarian, link directly to the original here. I made a few modifications based on what’s easily available in Iowa City (I don’t usually have smoked paprika or dried chiles on hand, but subbing canned chipotles in adobo adds some smokiness) and what I think is really delicious (in this case, more vinegar, more garlic, less sugar.) This recipe makes a spicy-but-not-TOO-spicy BBQ sauce, but you can always adjust the heat somewhat if you prefer something mild or pain-inducing by decreasing or increasing the number of chipotles. I topped my sandwich with store-bought slaw because I was feeling lazy, but you could make your own or eat the sandwich without it with still delicious results. If I had one at this moment, I would eat it with pickles. Also, this makes enough eggplant BBQ for about 8 sandwiches as well as extra BBQ sauce, which you should give to your friends.
For the BBQ sauce:
- 1/2 stick butter (use vegan butter, such as Earth Balance, if you want to keep it vegan)
- 1 onion, diced
- 8 cloves garlic, smashed
- 4 chipotle peppers in adobo
- 1 16-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/8 cup prepared mustard
- 7 or 8 dashes of vegetarian worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
Melt butter and cook onion over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add the garlic and the peppers and cook for a few minutes to marry the flavors. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Blend smooth with an emersion blender (or, if you have to use a regular blender, just make sure it cools reasonably and use small batches to avoid BBQ-ing yourself) and return the pot to the stovetop. Simmer uncovered for an hour, until the mixture has reduced by 1/4, if you can, though it’s still really tasty at this point if you want to stop right after blending.
For the eggplant:
- 3 large eggplants
- olive oil
- BBQ sauce
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise. Generously oil a large rimmed baking sheet and place the eggplants cut-side-down on the sheet. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove eggplants and allow them to cool. Once cool, pull the eggplant out of the skin allowing the vegetable to stay intact (as much as possible). Place eggplant flesh in a strainer and allow excess liquid to drain– you can lightly press the eggplant with a heavy bowl if you are especially eggplant-bitterness-phobic. Arrange eggplant in a single layer on a baking sheet and spoon on plenty of BBQ sauce. Return to the oven for 20 minutes until some caramelization has developed on the top.
Last steps: use a metal spatula to break the eggplants into sandwich-able chunks and admire not only how much the skinned, BBQ-ed eggplant looks like pork, but how much like pulling pork this process is. Put on a good toasted bun, because you’re worth it, and never feel BBQ deprived as a vegetarian again.