Let’s say you’ve just walked into the grocery store and on the way to pick up some onions you notice a healthy sized mound of eggplant, with glossy, deep purple skin shining under the florescent lights. Say you were unable to resist picking one up, paying for it, and taking it home. How would you fix it? That is the question at hand.
If you are of Asian, Indian, or Middle Eastern background, probably 20 ways to fix eggplant come to mind at once. A farmer friend sells 200 eggplants a week to one restaurant alone that specializes in Israeli cuisine. But many of us are left to flounder around trying to find a way to cook and eat this most beautiful and exotic vegetable.
Now that several kinds are commonly available—the miniature varieties called Japanese or Italian eggplants that are a deep purple; or long, slender, paler Chinese eggplants; or the standard large purple-black ones—I am making it a point to collect different ways of fixing eggplant. So far these experiments have tasted so good that I’m eating eggplant about once a week.
through discovery for me (not a new trick at all, but I didn’t try it until recently) was the salt-and-let-it-sit technique that eliminates eggplant’s one discordant flavor, a hint of bitterness. I have tried cubing fresh eggplant and soaking it in salt water, as well as slicing it into rounds, salting it heavily, then patting off the resulting salty juice with a paper towel or cloth 10 minutes later. (Some sources say leave salt on 30 minutes, but I’ve never left myself that much time to spare.) Both ways work well.
If you are cooking for someone new to eggplant, make a dish where the eggplant is well sauced, such as eggplant lasagna or moussaka (see recipe in the May 1992 Sojourners; the oven temperature, which I forgot to include, is 350 degrees). If you are feeling adventuresome, let eggplant stand on its own merit as one of the vegetables in a stir fry, or steamed and marinated and then served on a sandwich or in a salad.
A third category of eggplant magic is where the purple orb is popped into the oven or microwave, skin and all, and baked until it is soft and wrinkled (about 45 minutes in the oven, about 12 in a microwave). The flesh is scraped out into a bowl. Things such as garlic, tahini, and lemon juice are added to make a spread that can be used on pita bread or as dip for chips or vegetables.
This is a very versatile vegetable. If you need to convince someone to try an eggplant creation of yours, you can say what I said to my German grandmother when I served her the recipe printed below: "It tastes just like sauteed mushrooms." She not only tried it, she had a second helping, too.
Roasted Eggplant-Lemon Pasta
- 12 ounces thin egg noodles or angel hair pasta
- 2 medium eggplants
- 1/4 of a fresh lemon
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 4 Tbsp. olive oil
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- parmesan cheese
Peel eggplant. Slice lengthwise in 1/4-inch thick pieces. Sprinkle salt generously on exposed surfaces. Let sit 10 minutes, then pat off liquid and salt with paper towel.
Brush cookie sheets with the olive oil. Mash garlic and spread evenly over the pan. Arrange the eggplant pieces on cookie sheets. Brush tops with more olive oil.
Bake in 350-degree oven 10-15 minutes or until soft. Run knife through to cut into bite-sized pieces.
Meanwhile, bring pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Add butter. Squeeze lemon over pasta. Grind three rounds pepper over the top. Stir in eggplant. Serve with parmesan cheese and the pepper shaker. Serves two.
Carey Burkett, former assistant to the editor at Sojourners, is now an organic vegetable farmer in Hallettsville, Texas.