In Memory Of Karen Nicole Smith, 1972 - 2016

How To Prep Eggplant For Wintertime Choka.

I spoke about my adoration for Baigan Choka in my cookbook and how it’s one of those dishes that takes me back to innocent days of being ah lil fella on the islands. Served with hot Sada Roti and a thick wedge of Zaboca (avocado) and a cup of warm Cocoa Tea or Milo. That is Comfort Food!

This is not a recipe post but about convenience and a means to save a TON of Money. Allow me to explain. Baigan (Eggplant, Melongene or Aubergine) Choka is BEST when the Baigan or Eggplant is fire roasted.. that’s a fact! Yes you can roast the eggplant in the oven or nuke it in the microwave, but the resulting Choka will not be the same. While the temperature is nice outside heading to the BBQ or Grill outside is not an issue, but winters in Canada can be VERY Harsh. The mercury dips below -40 C late January – early February. No one wants to go outside even for bread, milk nor eggs, yet alone grill eggplant.

Then there’s the cost of Eggplant (especially since COVID), at retail (in Canada) it can range between $1.99 to $3.50 a lb. However during the summer months (near the end of August) you can get bushels (or 1/2 bushel) when farmers are harvesting their summer’s crop at a reasonable rate. My basic math, I’d guess it ranges between .35 and .55 cents a lb.

You’ll Need…

grill (propane, wood or charcoal)
bulk eggplant
Scotch Bonnet peppers (optional)
pairing knife
couple spoons
baking trays (I used 1 large and 2 smaller ones)
bucket or rubbish pail
freezer containers
table to work on

While your grill comes up to a HIGH temperature (ranged between 550 F and 700 F), all you need to do is give each eggplant a few cuts (or stabs), especially the thickest areas. This will allow for quicker cooking and for the steam to vent as they roast.

Some people may decide to stuff those cut with slices of garlic, but I’m not a fan of that step. I much prefer to add my raw garlic when I assemble the dish later on.

It’s just a matter of placing the pierced eggplant onto the grill and roast until they are fully cooked inside (about 20-30 minutes). Remember to flip them so all sides get in contact with the flame. May I recommend that you try to get all the same size for each batch of grilling. I started with my large ones, then moved on to smaller ones … this way I know they cook time would be the same for each in the batch.

The container I used was determined by how much I needed for a meal in my home, so all I’ll need to do is thaw one container and everyone would be sorted at breakfast or dinner. They were found at a local wholesale grocery where restaurants shop (all restaurant supply shops will have them) and they were under $12 for 50 (tub and lid). If you don’t have a lot of space in your freezer you may use freezer zipper bags as they can lay on each other. Or you can rock your vacuum sealer.

Once fully cooked (the skin will be burnt and hard in some cases), it’s time to get started. My setup was as follows. I had a large bowl next to my large baking sheet and the smaller baking tray was used to transport the roasted eggplant to the table. I placed two roasted eggplant onto the large baking sheet, then using my pairing knife I cut them open (watch the video below) and scraped the cooked insides out with the spoons. That flesh was put into the large bowl to cool.

May I recommend that if you’re using a propane grill that you have an extra tank of gas. While I do have 3 tanks.. yup! I ran out of propane (they were all empty) and had to stop to go to the Costco to get them refilled. In doing so mid-roasting (having to stop), those eggplant which were 1/3 cooked, became dark and discolored on the inside when I finally got back to them.

As you work your way though the roasted eggplants, toss the skins into your rubbish container (you may compost). I worked my way through a batch, then I added more to the grill so I’d have time to rest between roasting and scraping.

Once cooled a bit I started to fill all of the containers with the appropriate amount. Please keep in mind that there’s liquid in eggplant and liquid expands when frozen. Leave a bit of space at the top to compensate for that expansion. Additionally, I knew I’d be adding roasted Scotch Bonnet Peppers at the top, so even more space was left in my case.

Refer to the image below. As you work your way through the roasting and scraping you may encounter a few with mature seeds and a bit of discoloration. My mom hates this in her Choka and with her as my teacher – I dislike too! So that area made it’s way into my rubbish pail. Not a big deal, but you can decide what you want to do if that’s the case.

One of the questions I received on Instagram was if I added salt or anything else into the containers. No What I do is thaw a container, crush the pepper along with salt and raw garlic in my mortar. I then add the thawed eggplant to the mortar and with my pestle I crush that too. Top with thinly sliced onions and temper (chunkay) with smoking hot oil. Stir! So no salt at this point and don’t worry about crushing the eggplant smooth now.

After I worked my way through all of the eggplant and had it all in containers I could then count the yield and know exactly how many peppers I’d need to roast. By roasting of charring (blister) the peppers, you get a wicked smokey flavor along with the heat.

Some of the containers were scheduled to be delivered to my parents in Toronto and knowing my dad does not tolerate spicy foods, those containers didn’t have any need for roasted peppers. Should you not be able to handle an entire scotch bonnet pepper, may I recommend you skip this step and add raw pepper when you make the actual Choka, in the amount you can handle. Or divide the roasted peppers accordingly in your containers. Wear gloves when cutting/handling the peppers. You may use any hot peppers you enjoy or can source.

NO I didn’t wash the eggplant as I only needed the insides, but the peppers were washed and air-dried before roasting. However if your eggplants comes with dirt on them, hose those suckers down!

Allow them to cool COMPLETELY before freezing! Save money and enjoy the convenience.

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