If you didn't have a Moroccan grandmother, you probably won't be awash in a wave of nostalgia biting into the stem of one of these miniature candied eggplants. If you never tasted this Moroccan specialty, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out what it is made of. Both the size of the "fruit", its shape and the texture and flavour make it very difficult to guess it's an eggplant. Perhaps a pear would come to mind.
But I assure you that they do make a very impressive addition to any big celebration, and there are many ways to serve and eat them. But the best way is to grab them by the tail (or edible lollipop handle), and consume them from their firm but soft, seedy, sugared and spiced bottoms and nibble till you reach the firm top under the calyx, threaten to snap the candied stem, but manage only to scrape off the candied parts off the woody skeleton of the stem.
Eating as it is will always warrant a sense of importance and feeling like this is a moment to cherish. First of all, because tiny eggplants are not something one often runs into. And secondly, a person who's patient enough to shape the calyx of each individual eggplant, pierce it with a fork and then go through the lengthy cooking process is not easy to come by either. They usually come with the title "grandmother", who would only make it for special occasions such as wedding, bar mitzvah or brith; or in my case - you just needs to be an obsessed person with reviving nostalgia.
But you can also reserve the syrup for dripping over pancakes and French toast, slice the mini eggplants on top of fancy dessert arrangements or a fancy sweet and savoury sandwich, or simply over cheese and crackers. I admit that the best is just eat as it is with a cup of tea on the side to wash down all the sugar.
So if you stumble upon miniature eggplants, be sure to buy a kilo of the smallest and finest ones, no blemishes or parts that show any sign of rotting in the near future. Wash them and cut around the base of to stem, to remove any excess parts of the calyx (the green leafy looking part). Pierce with a fork. Once all are ready place in a pot of filtered water and cook until water boils. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Allow the eggplants to cool before draining completely in a colander.
Meanwhile while the eggplants are cooling, squeeze enough lemons to make half a cup of lemon juice. Bring to a boil one kilogram of sugar (I use raw cane sugar - not any sugar containing molasses) together with the lemon juice, and add all the spices: cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Once the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar has completely melted - add the eggplants. Cook until the eggplants have absorbed about half o the syrup (takes between 1-2 hours).
1 kg miniature eggplants
1 kg sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 sticks cinnamon, Ceylon
1 tsp clove buds
2 tsp cinnamon, ground
2tsp cloves, ground
2 tsp dried ginger root, ground