Unloved Veggies: Eggplant

At the market yesterday I spotted a riot of beautiful, colorful, almost chocolate-hued eggplants and brought home…several. My husband took one look at this (artfully arranged) aubergine convention on the counter and said, “I will eat one meal with that.”

A lot of people feel this way about eggplant. In fact, we’ve had more requests for eggplant help than any other veggie. Many vow that this is the one item in the CSA share that will always be left on the “trade” table. Far be it for me to tell people what they should like, but I’ll try to suggest some preparations that might pique your interest in this very versatile vegetable.

Eggplants come in many varieties. At the market you may spot them in shades of the deepest purple or edging closer to lavender; you can find shapes that are akin to that of zucchini squash and also squat, stout ones. (Ask your farmers to tell you about the ones they grow!) You, like me, might buy them for their sheer aesthetic qualities, and then wonder what you could possibly make with it that your family members will actually eat.

Eggplant’s meaty texture adds great volume and depth to a dish. (Having said that, I think one complaint is the eggplant is mushy – solve that problem by cooking it briefly or gently or just not too much.) I like it best with strong flavors – smoky or garlicky and especially anything that includes tomatoes and tomato sauce. (You’ll find endless ideas for eggplant by exploring Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.)

Eggplant easily adapts to any flavor profile – to me it’s one of those “canvas” veggies that you can project anything onto.

A friend who has spent a good deal of time in Spain suggests grilling eggplant whole and unpeeled on top of smoldering coals (not on the grill grates – right on the coals! You need to use hardwood lump charcoal for this – not regular charcoal). I love this because it involves no actual prep work – no slicing or oiling or anything. My kind of prep.

You could also grill-roast the eggplant for baba ganoush.

Where I grew up, lots of Greek families run family-style restaurants (“Coney Islands,”) where you can find homemade moussaka on the menu alongside Coney dogs (“coneys”), Greek salads, burgers and all-day breakfast. Greek cuisine is also known for vegetarian variations like this one.

We had big plans to grill a bunch of things tonight in preparation for weeknight meals, including eggplant – and we plumb ran out of time and energy. (True story: we went out for gyros.) But I wanted to prep this pile o’aubergines on the counter for use later. I like adding roasted eggplant chunks in a quick pasta meal, for instance, and if it’s already cooked that’s a bonus. Also, if I didn’t roast them tonight (remember, my kitchen counter held enough to feed a family of 12) I might not make them at all. Worst case, I can roast and freeze them, because in the middle of January I love being able to pull summer veggies out of the freezer for lasagna.

Before roasting, I like to pull out some of the moisture in the eggplant by sprinkling it with salt (let it sit for 30-60 minutes before roasting – the photo above shows just how much water gets pulled to the surface when you do that). Right now, I have a casserole dish of roasted eggplant slices ready to go into a quick weekday dinner

Eggplant is a fantastic vegetable to layer in lasagna; you could also make a beautiful eggplant terrine with zucchini and feta (that’s late summer in a dish, right there). It is a team player in any kind of casserole.

I tend to get a bit myopic when it comes to eggplant, focusing on the westernized menus. But eggplant actually came from the east, and there are no shortage of options when you look for uses in Asian cuisines. This stir-fry is on my list to try. The food writer Mark Bittman intriguingly suggests that you microwave (quick and easy! Not soggy!) eggplant in this south Indian curry.  Since we are in the quick-and-easy vein, try this 30-minute curry from Rachael Ray.

Let’s hope I managed to make this unloved veggie a little more enticing.

Enjoy!

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