Winter Comfort Food
Photo Credit: John Ivanko
Those with cabin fever and craving winter comfort food can find a tasty cure in the kitchen with this Aubergine Zacusca sandwich. The recipe comes from Bier Zot, a European-style gastropub in Sister Bay, Wisconsin, in the heart of Door County, about a four-hour drive north of Chicago.
This savory sandwich is made with grilled eggplant, tomato, greens, shallots, basil chèvre and a dash of cumin on naan bread. Don’t let the exotic-sounding name intimidate. Aubergine is just another name for eggplant, and zacusca is traditionally a roasted red pepper spread that sometimes includes eggplant. Bier Zot came up with their own version made with grilled eggplant slices instead of a spread.
“The Eggplant Zacusca was the idea of one of our cooks, Ibrahim Abduganiyev, who is from Uzbekistan,” shares Sara Unkefer, co-owner of Bier Zot, a restaurant known for its curated selection of more than 100 varieties of beers from craft and microbreweries from all over the world. “He ran it as a special after he had made it for family meals and staff lunches and everyone loved it.”
Bier Zot utilizes as much organic and sustainably grown food as possible. “Having a menu flavored in European inspiration makes this pretty easy as most Europeans have the luxury of great local farmers markets,” says Unkefer. Bier Zot’s chèvre comes from just up the road at Door County Creamery. They’re able to use produce from local farms and feature a menu that changes seasonally to accommodate what’s fresh during the growing season.
“Almost 100 percent of our produce is grown in northeast Wisconsin; our beef, eggs and pork are from Door County,” Unkefer explains. “Chicken and cheese are from Wisconsin. It really typifies our approach to buying local, which is broken down by areas. We first try to buy from Door County, then Northeast Wisconsin, followed by the rest of Wisconsin, and then the Midwest. We utilize products from Wildwood Farms, Spring Creek Farms, Waseda Farms and Peninsula Pork.”
Any preserved or frozen eggplant or peppers can be used in this recipe. A growing number of people grow their own produce in backyard gardens, regularly shop farmers’ markets or belong to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. Eggplant and peppers freeze well and are easy to enjoy throughout the year. Bier Zot recommends grilling the eggplant and then marinating it in olive oil. “Comfort convenience food at its finest,” says Unkefer. “You can then keep that marinated eggplant in the refrigerator for a few days, ready to make a sandwich whenever a craving kicks in.”
“Saison Dupont pairs so well with this dish, because although it is a lighter beer, the hop presence is enough to balance the richness of the basil chèvre,” says Bier Zot bar manager Ryan Castelaz of this classic Belgian farmhouse ale. Castelaz possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the styles, varieties, flavor profiles and back stories of the beers offered at Bier Zot; call him a beer poet. The beer menu is broken down into sections based on the style of beer and each food item includes a food pairing suggestion. Of course, their brats go with every style of beer. Bier Zot also offers a “tasting flight”, where beer connoisseurs or the curiously adventurous can sample glasses from the aged to sour types.
For omnivores, meat also works well in this recipe. “The simplicity of the Zacusca lends itself to great additions like other vegetables, or meats like lamb or chicken,” says Unkefer.
Yield: 1 sandwich
Ingredient note: Chèvre is a type of soft cheese made from goat’s milk. Look for organic, local chèvre if possible, and try to avoid cheese that’s wrapped in plastic. Younger, softer chèvre is best for spreading on a sandwich. Use an open cheese package as quickly as possible, ideally within the week.
1 pita or flatbread
1-2 Tbsp basil chèvre
1 cup spring mix lettuce
3-4 pieces of grilled and
marinated eggplant, cut into quarters
2 slices heirloom tomato
1 thinly sliced red onion
¼ tsp ground cumin and sea salt
½ cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 clove (1 tsp) garlic, chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 oz fresh basil leaves,
10 oz chèvre
1 tsp lemon juice
To make eggplant marinade, combine olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and thyme in bowl. Slice eggplant into ½-inch thick quarter slices, and then add to marinade and let sit overnight in refrigerator.
To make basil chèvre, combine fresh basil, chèvre and lemon juice, mixing well with a spoon. Set aside or refrigerate before using in sandwich.
Grill slices of marinated eggplant until soft and fully cooked over medium heat, and then set side.
Warm the flatbread or pita slightly, and then spread with basil chèvre.
Lay a generous amount of spring mix, followed by grilled eggplant, onion and heirloom tomatoes. Sprinkle with ground cumin and sea salt. Eggplant can be warm or cold.
Recipe Courtesy of Bier Zot, Sister Bay, Door County, Wisconsin.
John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist are co-authors of Farmstead Chef, Homemade for Sale and ECOpreneuring, and they operate the Inn Serendipity, in Browntown, WI. For more information, visit InnSerendipity.com.