Gluten-free Progressive OSCAR Dinner Party: Avatar inspired Millet Eggplant Croquettes and Chips

When Diane of the Whole Gang suggested that this month we have an Oscar theme for our Gluten-free Progressive Dinner, I was both excited and perplexed. I’ve never held an Oscar themed dinner party. What could I make? Searching online, it seems that people hosting Oscar parties usually either go for a movie-theme (10 varieties of popcorn, anyone?) or prepare food inspired by one or more movies up for nomination. Popcorn didn’t inspire me, but I thought it might be fun to prepare a menu inspired by one of the nominated movies. Julie & Julia might be the most obvious choice, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Hello, a movie about a food blogger and a woman who learned to cook in Paris- what could be better? I couldn’t remember much inspiring vegetarian fare, though, and the whole thing seemed a little too obvious. I briefly considered The Blind Side as I love making gluten-free Southern-inspired vegetarian fare. But, of this year’s nominees, Avatar was the one that really stood out to me. I loved its imaginative depiction of an alien society, its beautiful visuals, its interesting commentary on the exploitation of native peoples, and illustration of the anthropologist’s problem of “going native.” What could be more fun than creating a menu of other-worldly food? This vegetarian Avatar-inspired meal begins with an appetizer of spicy and lovely lotus root chips. If you prefer, you can try my healthier baked lotus root chip recipe. It continues with a hearty and peppery dish inspired by bruschetta but gone alien with a bird-seed millet grit base (appropriate for a people that fly on winged bird-dragons) topped with honey or agave sweetened caramelized balsamic eggplant and fresh arugula greens in a vinaigrette. The meal ends on a naturally sweet note with fried smashed plantain chips lightly spiced with exotic cinnamon and sugar. We enjoyed our meal thoroughly, and it would be perfect for an Avatar inspired Oscar Viewing party (or an Avatar viewing party).

This post is an entry in the Gluten-free Progressive Dinner Event Series.

Join us the week of February 22-26th for Award Winning Food for you to make for your Oscar Watching Party or anytime you want rave reviews.

Monday February 22- Shirley from gluten free easily sharing Veronica’s Pumpkin Soup

Tuesday February 23- SEA from Book of Yum with appetizers inspired from the movie Avatar

Wednesday February 24- Karen from Cook4Seasons and Diane from The WH.O.L.E. Gang using inspiration from Julie and Julia

Thursday February 25- Alison from Sure Foods Living

Friday February 26- Ellen from I Am Gluten Free

Looking for more Oscar Viewing Menus?
Epicurious Oscar Viewing Party Menu ‘09
Yahoo Oscar Menu Ideas ‘10 (love the “blue” theme for the Avatar menu!)

Fried Lotus Root Chip Recipe
1 lotus root bulb (renkon in Japanese)
canola or other oil for frying

smoked paprika if you want it spicy

Peel your lotus root and slice as thinly as you can manage. A mandolin works very well for this. If it will be a while before you fry, you can put the slices in water with a little vinegar added. Before frying, drain and dry the slices thoroughly. A salad spinner works well. Be careful of any splattering while frying.

Prepare a wire rack with a pan underneath for excess oil to drip off while the chips cool.

When ready to fry, put at least one inch of canola oil in a deep, tall pan. I often use a soup pan. Heat the oil to 365F and carefully drop in a few dry lotus root chips. Use a metal strainer with a long handle or chopsticks to turn them. When they are golden brown, remove them to the wire rack to cool. Sprinkle with salt and smoked paprika if you like. Continue frying in small batches.

Serve and enjoy!

*If the lotus chips are not done enough in the center you can fry them twice- first to a light golden brown, then let cool slightly, and then fry once more to a full golden brown. Season after the last frying.

You can buy lotus root at Asian Markets, especially Japanese or Korean markets. Check your lotus root carefully. It should not have any mold. Try to avoid any dark spots. The ideal lotus root will have crisp flesh, smooth, unblemished skin, and will still have its “knot” that attaches to another bulb. The knot should not have any mold, and ideally will look clean and fresh.
Millet Polenta Croquettes with Honey Balsamic Eggplant topping recipe
1/2 cup Millet Grits (Bob’s Red Mill)
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. olive oil
Your favorite herbal blend (I like the Provencal blends by Penzeys)

1 large Eggplant
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar or more to taste
1/2 tsp honey or agave
your favorite herbal seasoning blend

Handful of arugula or other favorite sturdy salad green or herb such as basil

Your favorite balsamic vinaigrette or homemade:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. honey or agave
(adjust proportions to suit your palate)

Bring water and salt to a boil and add your grits, lowering heat and covering. Let cook on low for 10-15 minutes. Take off heat, cool for 15 minutes, and then remove to a small square shaped container like tupperware. cool in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Meanwhile, prepare your eggplant. Slice or cut into 1/2 inch thick cubes, depending on your preference. Combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey and seasoning blend in a small bowl. Whisk ingredients together. You can either baste your eggplant cubes with your marinade or dip your slices in the marinade. If you run out of marinade (depending on the size of your eggplant) just make more!

Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and place your eggplant slices or cubes in a single layer on the sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until eggplant has gotten soft and slightly caramelized. If you are making slices, turn over and bake another 10 minutes. The cubes may not need to be turned and baked more.

While eggplant is baking, remove your firm, cooled millet grits from the container. They should keep their shape. Carefully slice into rectangles about the size you would expect from bruschetta. Sprinkle with your seasoning herb and a touch of salt, if not included in the blend. Heat olive oil in a nonstick pan on medium. Place your millet “polenta” rectangles in the oil and fry until golden brown. Turn over and brown the other side. Remove to a serving plate.

If you like, you can caramelize some onions to top the dish with. Slice an onion and sautee in a little olive oil on low-med heat until it gets golden brown.

Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients.

Now, assemble the dish.

Top the millet croquettes with arugula and caramelized onions (optional). Drizzle a little dressing on top and add your roasted eggplant. Add some sprigs of arugula for garnish and serve. Enjoy!

*For a variation, you can add a little pasta sauce to the top of the eggplant while it is in its final roasting phase.

You can also layer the dish Croquettes, eggplant, arugula, but I decided I liked it better as written here. It’s up to you. :)
Fried Plantain Chip Recipe
1 slightly green plantain
canola oil

*Tortilla press
1 quart sized freezer bag

Prepare your tortilla press by lining it with a freezer bag with the sides cut out.

Slice plantain at an angle to get a long, oval slice. If the plantain is too green to easily remove the skin, carefully cut the skin off of each slice.

Prepare a wire rack above a wide, long pan for draining.

Preheat your canola oil (or other oil with a high smoke point) in a narrow, deep pan like a soup pan. Heat to 365F and you are ready to fry!

Place in the freezer bag lining your tortilla press and press down on the handle to create a large, flat “chip”.

Gently peel off your “chip” and carefully drop in the oil. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Remove chip from oil with a wire strainer and place on wire rack to cool. Season with a tiny smidgen of salt, and generous sprinkles of sugar and cinnamon.

Continue frying until all chips are done. You can place the rack (if oven safe) in an oven on 200F to keep warm if desired.

Serve and enjoy!

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8 Responses to “Gluten-free Progressive OSCAR Dinner Party: Avatar inspired Millet Eggplant Croquettes and Chips”

  1. Wow, Sea, I am so impressed! I adore fried plantains, and millet polenta croquettes with that topping–yes, please–but, I am most intrigued by the lotus root chips. I absolutely must try those. I have no idea where I’ll find any lotus root around here, but I’ll work on it for sure. What a great post inspired by Avatar! We just saw it on Sat. for Mr. GFE’s birthday. I had expected to be uninterested, but it really amazed me. The alien’s world was incredibly beautiful and these vegetarian dishes you made are so fitting … bravo!


  2. [...] Tuesday February 23- SEA from Book of Yum with appetizers inspired from the movie Avatar- Millet Eggplant Croquettes and Chips [...]

  3. Looks good!

    Just wanted stay that I don’t have any special equipment, but make fried plantains on a semi-regular basis. I just take a large drinking glass or mason jar, put some parchment paper on the plantain then use the bottom of the glass to flatten. Sometimes they turn out a little lopsided, but it works.

  4. Wow, you are as creative as the people who made Avatar. I love these recipes. I’ve never had anything like lotus chips and I can’t wait to give them a try. Thank you for sharing all of these for our Gluten Free Progressive OSCAR Dinner Party. I’m coming to your house to watch and eat!

  5. [...] February 23rd: Avatar-Inspired Millet Eggplant Croquettes and Chips from Sea at Book of [...]

  6. aie que rico! I LOVE plaintain chips, but funnily enough, it never occurred to me to try and make my own!

  7. Lotus root – I’ve seen it in the asian market, but never knew what to do with it. Now I do!

    Millet Grits – also never seen them, but will now be on the lookout. This dish looks so elegant and delicious and I’ll bet you can easily sub in other veggies. Yum.

    Plantains – I’ve been frustrated with trying to peel plantains, but these look great. I love the idea of flattening them with a tortilla press. Will definitely have to try these.

    What a lovely assortment of appetizers for your GFPDP!!!

    best, Ellen

  8. Wow – here are 3 things I have never made or even thought about making!! I am most excited to try the lotus root chips – they are so pretty! Thanks for these very unique ideas!

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