We Cook: Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume – Eggplant Stacks with Pomegranate, Mint and Yogurt Sauce

Last year we were overrun by cucumbers and this year we’re drowning in eggplant. There’s an x-rated joke in there somewhere (a garden-variety one, at that. HA HA HA!).

To make a dent in the nine pounds of eggplant I harvested in one day, I chose a recipe for eggplant stacks from Silvena Rowe’s Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume. Made of chopped sweet potatoes with feta cheese between layers of eggplant, mint, pomegranate, and yogurt are also main components in the finished dish.

Served with the eggplant stacks is a yogurt sauce that uses suzme as its base. According to Rowe, suzme is drained yogurt, or labne. I followed a separate recipe in the book for the suzme by draining whole milk yogurt in the refrigerator overnight.

I chopped fresh mint

and then got out my favorite unitasker for the garlic

and measured out the pomegranate molasses.

If you can’t find pomegranate molasses in your grocery store there is a simple recipe in the book on how to make it at home using pomegranate juice. I can almost always find pomegranate juice at the grocery store but have to go out of my way for the molasses so, in ten years, when I run out of the molasses, I’ll have a recipe I can use.
The yogurt sauce also called for the seeds of one pomegranate. I looked in every store close by and found no pomegranates. I shut my eyes and left them out of the sauce completely. I did not substitute anything for them because I felt that would be doing a disservice to the tart, juicy little things.

Obviously, the sauce would taste like it needed something and the texture wouldn’t be the same, but since I didn’t follow the recipe, any fault in the yogurt sauce this time around would be my own.

The finished sauce went into the refrigerator

and I started after the sweet potatoes.

I had a touch more than the recipe called for but by the time I removed the skanky ends of the sweet potatoes (I got the last few in the bin at the store) I had just enough.

Rowe calls for boiling the sweet potatoes until tender but with no central AC in our house I am selective about when I create a sauna in my kitchen. I microwaved the sweet potatoes exactly like baked potatoes and let them cool before removing their skins.

The instructions only call for the sweet potatoes to be ‘coarsely chopped.’ I would’ve liked a more exact measurement (surprised?) but bearing in mind the pieces would be in between slices of eggplant, I kept the pieces on the smaller side for easy cutting and chewing.

Too big.

Just right.

Had I cut the potatoes before boiling I think 3/4″ dice would’ve been a good size for the pieces to allow for a little breakdown while cooking.

I put all the sweet potatoes aside and got out two eggplants.

Rowe calls for two small eggplants in the ingredient list but specifies that you only need sixteen 1/4″ thick rounds for the recipe. Specifying a 4″ eggplant or something in a similar size-range would’ve been a little more helpful (or even two 2″ eggplants. Although, that is an odd size unless she’s calling for something other than the standard globe eggplant. The ingredient list just says ‘two small eggplants’).
I took a tape measure to the eggplant to make sure I was cutting at an proper thickness

starting after the metal tab on the tape measure since that thing is just annoying.

I switched over to a mandoline after my first slice looked like this.

The mandoline sliced most of them a hair under 1/4″, but the difference in size was negligible.
When building the eggplant stacks a few steps later in the recipe, Purple Citrus instructs you to stack the eggplant slices in ascending size.
Since I had extras thanks to my one big eggplant, I cherry-picked the pieces that were most equal in diameter instead of making eggplant pyramids

I salted, peppered, and floured the chosen

then fried them in a bit of olive oil.

I refried two in this batch as they didn’t look like they absorbed enough oil.
After each batch finished frying I drained them on a naked plate.

I generally forego paper towels when draining fried food because I’ve found the towel causes the food to lose crispness. My bacon has been much crisper using this method but my arteries are probably crispier, too.
While batches of eggplant fried and drained, I made the filling for the stacks.

I broke the feta cheese apart into pieces roughly the same size as the sweet potatoes

and added mint to the mix.

The eggplant was done by the time I had crumbled and chopped things for the filling, so I did a quick wipe of the pan, melted a tablespoon of butter

and then dumped in the mixture.

Immediately after stirring it looked like this

but got less crazy after gentle mixing.

The cheese, potatoes, and mint only needed a brief time on the stove and after they were combined I started making the eggplant stacks.

They came together quickly and when I was done I had four very pretty vegetable towers:

As instructed, I placed everything in the oven to warm through before serving and when they came out they were ready to eat.

I served the eggplant as entrees with two per person but they’d work as a substantial side just fine.

I would’ve liked the recipe to be more specific about eggplant size and cut-size for the sweet potatoes. On a positive note, I was happy that I did not end up with a mountain of filling leftovers. When a recipe is for filled or stuffed foods, I often end up with excess filling or not enough. Happily, this recipe left me with only a small amount in the bowl after putting together the specified yield (four stacks). Since I had eggplant rounds left over from my big eggplant I was easily able to make two more stacks. Based on the amount of filling leftovers and typical eggplant size I would change the recipe yield from four to six stacks.

I’m not saying that a bigger yield of these vegetable towers is a bad thing at all. They certainly were as nice to eat as they were to look at.

We Cook: Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe

I’ve had Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe for a year and have yet to cook out of it.

Published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, with 256 pages and over 130 recipes, it came in the same package of books as Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams but didn’t get the same attention as the others in the lot.
There was no good reason to ignore the book, I simply had other books that I kept reaching for. After a year of waiting I think it’s time to use this book. The need to use Purple Citrus is directly tied to the fact that I have a glut of eggplants in the garden and the book has a long list recipes for them.

I’ve never been to the Mediterranean, much less the Eastern Mediterranean, but I am continuously drawn to its food. I think much of it has to do with the area’s amount of negative news coverage. Exposing violence is necessary but culture and beauty always seem to get lost in the avalanche of dark news stories. I want to see the good, the beloved, the comforting. I want to know what quiet moments hold for a person when the focus is on creating something lovely.

I wonder how someone could not want to know more when Rowe writes in her introduction that her recipes combine “the sweet and the sour, the fresh and the dried, honey and cinnamon, saffron and sumac, scented rose and orange flower waters with the most magical of spices.”

Hot dang, I’m ready to cook.

Rowe explains in one of her videos that the “purple citrus” part of the book’s title comes from the qualities of sumac. Sumac is indeed a deep purple spice with a citrusy, floral taste. It can be difficult to source in-person if you’re not in a metropolitan area. The fact that Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume calls for some hard-to-find ingredients is a popular ‘con’ in recent reviews.

Complaints or raves over books are a tiny factor in my buying habits. I am disgustingly frustrated when someone reviews a cookbook without cooking from it. Unfortunately, when you start digging through cookbook reviews this is what you find the most.

Could you imagine someone reviewing a novel the same way? “Well, this paragraph sounded good and there are some nice looking illustrations and photographs, too. What I didn’t like was that there were some big words and I had to get out a dictionary or use surrounding context to figure them out.” Read the book, cook a handful of recipes as written, then make your assessment (YA JACKASS).

While there is no good substitute for sumac, there is a helpful section in Purple Citrus called The Eastern Mediterranean Pantry. It offers substitutes or recipes for many ingredients and information on other common pantry items.

Like sumac, there are a few ingredients used in the book that have no substitutes. Many of them are fresh ingredients like passion fruit, pomegranates, nettles, and purslane. However, I’m not going to cook out of the book every day and I can make the recipes when the ingredients are in season or show up in stores. I don’t live in the Eastern Mediterranean and don’t expect to find everything at my grocery store down the street, especially when I’m cooking from a book that deals exclusively with food from completely different countries.

Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume is divided into several main recipe sections: Mezze (a series of small shared plates); Starters; Boreks (filled pastries), Pilafs and Salads; Meat and Poultry; Fish; Vegetables; and Sweets. Paging through the book, the meat section seems to lean heavily on lamb (unsurprisingly) and the sweets section has several of recipes calling for roses, which is charming to me.

There are a few folktales, poems, and anecdotes throughout the book, breaking up the stream of recipes.

When headnotes are included with a recipe Rowe gives substitution advice, where she got the recipe, or a story setting up the dish’s origins. The headnotes are mostly utilitarian although there are some touching insights here and there.

The book’s photography is by Jonathan Lovekin, the same person who photographed Nigel Slater’s Tender and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, among other titles getting a lot of attention lately. I couldn’t find any information on the food stylist, but the photographs in Purple Citrus have a jewel-like quality.

Perhaps it has to do with all of the pomegranate seeds on plates, jade pistachios, and olive oil.

There is an official Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume flickr stream for a look at more photos.

Like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Sweet Citrus lays flat

making cooking from the book easy.

My edition came with a dust jacket and let me tell you, I’m almost off of the fence about dust jackets on cookbooks.

I’d rather ribbons for place markers and a surface that is easy to wipe off should I lay the book down in a puddle of broth.

The actual book cover is QUITE PINK. It has a glossy surface, making broth puddles a little less threatening if the book is naked.

Along with the presence of a dust jacket, the other niggling thing I can’t shake is that the page numbers are close to the spine instead of on the outside edge of the pages.

To consult the index and then go to the listed page you have to open up the book up all the way to see your page number instead of be able to quickly flip through the edge of the pages.

A small thing, like I said.

Page numbers and dust jackets aside, Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume is an impressive book to pursue but let’s allow the recipes do their thing and see what the book is made of.

I’ve not been compensated or asked to write about this book in any way. I couldn’t find a lot of information about it online so I decided to write about it in depth for others who may be interested in what the book holds.