Saturday, July 7, 2012


"Land fish"--fried eggplant masquerades as fish.
When is a fish not a fish, a noodle not really noodle? Masquerades in the kitchen are always fun, sometimes a little tongue-in-cheek, so to speak. For instance, I make “faux pho” with “noodles” of zucchini strips (why? just to cut down on carbs—the wonderful broth scented with star anise and ginger is still divine, without rice noodles) and fried “chicken” nuggets made of tofu (surprisingly, similar texture).

Spanish shops sell “ersatz elvers” in place of the real thing, which due to scarcity, cost as much as caviar or truffles. The fake fish is surimi (fish paste) extruded in the shape of baby eels to be sauteed in olive oil with garlic for a classic Basque dish, angulas.

"Field anchovies"--green beans.

Kitchen guile comes to the aid of the frugal cook, as well. So green beans stand in for fresh anchovies, asparagus for pricey crayfish, eggplant for fish sticks.

Then there is the case of the forbidden chanquetes. Chanquetes are tiny, transparent fish of the goby family. Deep fried and crisp, chanquetes are a M├ílaga culinary trademark. Unfortunately, these fish have nearly disappeared from local waters and their fishing is now prohibited in order to prevent the larvae of other species being captured and sold as chanquetes. So, counterfeit instead of contraband—grated zucchini, floured and fried, makes a credible stand-in.

You KNOW how you love anything fried. Well, fried golden-brown, the fakes are just about as delicious as the real thing. I fry everything in olive oil, but you can use other vegetable oil. The ingredients don’t need to be deep-fried. I use about 1 ½ inch of oil in a medium skillet and fry in several batches.

Chanquetes de Chacoteo
Chanquetes “Just Kidding”

This is the sort of food you can gobble by the handful. Surprisingly, it stays crisp even after cooling.

Pretend chanquetes.

Oil for frying

Prepare the zucchini immediately before frying. Coarsely grate zucchini directly into a bowl of flour. Toss lightly. Heat oil very hot. Place zucchini in a sieve and shake off excess flour. Fry in small batches until golden-brown. Skim out onto paper toweling and sprinkle with salt.

"Garden crayfish"--asparagus spears.

Boquerones del Campo
Cigalas de la Huerta

“Field Anchovies” (Green Beans)
“Garden Crayfish” (Asparagus)

Vegetables masquerading as fish. Green beans, crisply fried, sort of resemble fresh, fried anchovies (for the real thing, see this post And pairs of asparagus spears sort of look like the claws on cigalas, sea crayfish. Rings of green pepper and onions become “field squid.”

Serve these right out of the frying pan. They don’t really need any sauce—just a squeeze of lemon. Should you have leftovers, cut them up and combine them with a tomato sauce and toss with cooked pasta.

Fake shellfish claws.
1 egg
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
1/3  cup water
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ pound beans, preferably flat romano beans
½ pound fresh asparagus spears
Olive oil for frying   
Lemon wedges, to serve

Beat the egg in a bowl with1/2 tablespoon of oil. Stir in the parsley, garlic, salt and water. Combine the flour and baking powder in another bowl. Stir the egg mixture into the flour until smooth. The batter should be the consistency of heavy cream. Allow the batter to stand for 1 hour at room temperature or, covered and refrigerated, up to 8 hours.

Top and tail the beans. Cook them in boiling, salted water until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes from the time the water returns to the boil. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well.

Break off butt ends of asparagus. Cook the spears in boiling, salted water until they are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes from the time the water returns to the boil. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well.

Heat oil in a deep skillet until shimmering. Dip beans into the batter, allow excess to drain off.  Fry the beans until lightly browned, turning once, about 2 minutes. Remove them with a skimmer to paper towels to drain.

Pick up asparagus spears two by two and dip them into the batter, pinching them together so the tips splay out.  Fry in hot oil, turning once, until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Serve beans and asparagus hot or room temperature, accompanied by lemon.

Pez de Tierra
"Land Fish" (Fried Eggplant)

Cut in strips and fried, eggplant sort of resembles fried fish-fingers. Serve it accompanied by salmorejo, gazpacho cream sauce (that recipe is here) or red pepper mayonnaise. Fried eggplant is also delicious with a drizzle of molasses. It may sound odd, but a trickle of sweet sets off the salty, fried eggplant very nicely.

Makes 8 tapas or 4 starters.

1 medium eggplant, about 12 ounces
1/3 cup flour
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Olive oil for frying

Peel the eggplant and cut it in strips about 3 ½  inches long by  ¾ inch wide. Combine the flour, cumin and pepper in a bowl. Add the eggplant strips and toss to coat them with flour.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet. Fry the eggplant in two batches until golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Remove, drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Serve hot.


  1. As we are about to be overwhelmed by zucchini, I thank you for this idea! Now we may be TRULY thankful!

    1. Lucky you, with lots of zucchini. Read my Zucchini Chronicles and another zucchini recipe here,

  2. I have no idea there is other recipe for eggplant other than frying, I will definitely try and add this menu in my kitchen pantry list.