Polenta-Crusted Eggplant Fries with Harissa Aioli

Polenta-Crusted Eggplant Fries with Harissa Aioli | A Sweet Spoonful

Last week, we took a quick trip to Lake Tahoe to celebrate my sister Zoe’s birthday and the last hurrah of summer. My family has a cabin on the lake that we’ve had since I was a little girl, and it felt like a pretty big deal showing Sam and Oliver around the little town — where we got ice cream as kids, the mini golf course, the modest town beach and run-down motel that’s been there for ages. We got burgers at The Char Pit, Oliver went on his first boat ride and his first hike, and we saw some crazy-pink California sunsets. When we got back to Seattle it felt surprisingly like fall: somehow in the span of just a few days, we’ve got leaves on the ground and cooler mornings and evenings. I promptly packed away my swimsuits, got out my sweaters, and made a run to the farmers market to load up on summer produce while we still can: tomatoes, eggplant, peaches. Oliver’s been eating the peaches for breakfast in yogurt or cottage cheese and I had plans to make ratatouille with the eggplant and tomatoes, but then I thought maybe I should try something a bit out of my comfort zone. So I got out a big pot, and set out to fry up some eggplant fries.

Polenta-Crusted Eggplant Fries with Harissa Aioli | A Sweet SpoonfulI can’t remember the last time I fried something. It’s possible, actually, that I’ve never fried anything. I remember my mom frying donuts for us when we were kids — she used the biscuit dough that comes in those canisters that pop open when you twist them, rolling each one in cinnamon sugar and poking a hole in the middle with her thumb. They were, for the record, spectacular. But really truly frying things isn’t something that’s in my wheelhouse. Thankfully I got a nudge recently when I was contacted by Thrive, introducing me to their new algae oil. I know, I know: you’re likely thinking exactly what I was thinking (and what I know my sister Rachael is still thinking): really?! But the email caught my attention because it’s a neutral-flavored oil that has a really high smoke point and the highest amount of monounsaturated fat (the “good fat”) of other popular oils like olive, canola and coconut oil.  I was intrigued.

Polenta-Crusted Eggplant Fries with Harissa Aioli | A Sweet Spoonful After having it in the house for a few weeks, we found ourselves using the algae oil often in salad dressings and to sautee vegetables. It’s surprisingly light, so I had a suspicion it would make really delicate, crisp eggplant fries and it turns out, I was onto something.

Polenta-Crusted Eggplant Fries with Harissa Aioli | A Sweet Spoonful

For this recipe, I wanted the breading to have a little texture so I decided to throw in some polenta at the last minute (you could also use a coarse-ground cornmeal) and I did a mix of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour but feel free to use whatever you have on hand. As for the aoili, if you’re not familiar with harissa it’s a really versatile red chile paste that’s often made with warm spices like cumin, coriander and a good bit of garlic. It’s a quick easy flavor bomb, which is why I love it here. For the sake of time, the aoili is definitely a cheater version so all you aioli purists out there may just have to turn a blind eye. I figured that there will be plenty of time in January to make homemade aioli — for now, we’ve got a few leaves on the ground, neighborhood walks that beckon, and lots of lingering late summer produce to eat.

A quick note for Washington state readers, you can now find Thrive algae oil at Haggen stores — otherwise, it’s super easy to order online.

Polenta-Crusted Eggplant Fries with Harissa Aioli

Polenta-Crusted Eggplant Fries with Harissa Aioli

  • Yield: Serves 4-6
  • Prep time: 15 mins
  • Cook time: 20 mins
  • Inactive time: 2 hrs
  • Total time: 2 hrs 35 mins

I adopted a tip from Bon Appetit here to ensure the fries cook up nice and crisp (as eggplant has a tendency to get soggy quickly). The key is to soak the eggplant slices in cold water for at least 2 hours before frying: the ice water helps them absorb liquid and become quite cool so when they hit the hot oil, the exterior crisps up leaving the interior nice and creamy but not at all greasy. We ended up having leftover aioli that we used on sandwiches the next day, and it keeps in the fridge just fine for a few weeks.

Ingredients

For the Harissa Aioli (makes about 2/3 cup)

2 medium cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, plus more to season if you like
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons lemon juice, from 1 small lemon
2-3 tablespoons harissa paste (depending on your preference)

For the Eggplant Fries:

1 medium eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/3 cup (40g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (40g) whole wheat flour (or substitute for more all-purpose, if you like)
1/3 cup (45g) polenta or coarse-ground cornmeal (I used Bob's Red Mill brand)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
3/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
2 teaspoons smoked paprika (or sweet paprika, if you have trouble sourcing)
2 tablespoons freshly-ground lemon zest
2 large eggs
Thrive algae oil (or other neutral high-smoke point oil), for frying

Instructions

Make the aioli: Mash garlic and salt in small bowl until paste forms. Whisk in the mayonnaise, lemon juice, and harissa. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional harissa or salt and pepper, as desired. Store covered and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Make the fries: Cut the eggplant crosswise into 1/2 -inch rounds, then cut each round further into 1/2 -3/4 inch thick strips (or any fry size you happen to like – just make sure they’re uniform). Place eggplant strips in a large bowl filled with enough ice water to cover them (about 2-3 cups water and plenty of ice). Place a plate on top of eggplant strips to weigh them down — you want them totally submerged. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Meanwhile whisk both flours, cornmeal, salt, pepper, oregano, paprika and lemon zest in a medium bowl. In a separate small bowl, whisk eggs.

Pour oil into a large deep pot or wok suitable for frying to a depth of 1 1/2 – 2 inches. Attach a thermometer to the side of the pot and heat oil over medium heat to 325°.

Drain eggplant sticks from the water and pat dry with a paper towel or clean towel. Working in small batches, submerge the eggplant sticks in the egg mixture then toss well in flour mixture to coat. Fry them, turning occasionally so they cook uniformly, until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Serve immediately with harissa aioli.

Comments

  1. Christine Gordon

    Just got 2 beautiful eggplants in the CSA and was (as usual!0 going to do ratatouille) but now I am going to try these. They look spectacular!!!

    1. megang

      Yay! Hope you like them! xo

  2. Lauren

    These look delicious! A newbie question - what do you do with the oil at the end? Can I just strain it and reuse it?

    1. megang

      Hi, Lauren! I am also a newbie when it comes to frying, actually. I rarely do it! We kept it for future frying but you wouldn't want to use it for, say, salad dressings or other uses. Enjoy!

  3. Sabrina

    Thanks for this recipe, love the polenta + eggplant (I remember fried zucchini in L. Tahoe from Sunnyide restuarant), will have to check out "Thrive" too, thanks

    1. megang

      Ah yes, I know Sunnyside well. They have this over-the-top dessert there called Hula Pie (I think I'm thinking of the right place!?) So good.

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