There are people who say they do not care for eggplant. To them I say, “Pshaw! You know not what of you speak.” This is because eggplant is so versatile, so healthy and so delicious. I truly believe there are no bad eggplants (unless rotten), only bad cooks.
But first, allow me a brief diversion that pertains to the title of this blog, which I could not resist, because it is what I like to imagine the Beatles are singing when I hear “I Am The Walrus”(instead of “Eggman.”). According to one internet site (Internet=The Source of All Knowledge), John Lennon wrote this particular song in reaction to a student who contacted him about the meaning of his lyrics for a school project. Lennon’s indignant response was to write a song of complete nonsense. Although, as you can imagine, the site then goes on to pick apart the lyrics of said song for whatever meaning there might be. Said site, explains that the Eggman was really Eric Burdon of the Animals, who was said to enjoy breaking eggs onto the bodies of female playmates. How tasteless.
Eggplants, on the other hand, have a subtle but deeply satisfying taste that enhances the flavors of whatever ingredient or cooking method one deploys. Like magic. A rose-colored glasses. Or other conscious-altering substances. It can be a spicy stew or a condiment. It can be an appetizer, a side dish or a main course. There are even eggplant dessert recipes, although I am not including one in this blog because the idea does not appeal to me even slightly.
The use of eggplant spans nearly every continent over several millennia. The consensus appears to be that they were originally domesticated in India; but they are also an essential element of Southeast Asian, Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. Eggplant is incredibly healthy, containing an incredible number of healthy antioxidants that act against cancer, bad cholesterol, joint pain and certain viruses. So eat your eggplant!
There are scores of different types of eggplant—in the US we are most familiar with the big round purple type and the thinner Chinese or Japanese eggplant. But there are also white eggplants that actually look like eggs, little round green eggplants, eggplants with purple and white stripes. Go to Uwajimaya to see eggplants of many hues and sizes.
They are all wonderful.
Some people express a concern about bitterness in the big purple eggplants. They recommend salting the eggplant pieces in a colander for a couple of hours, and then squeezing the resulting liquid out of the vegetable. Others recommend peeling it. I cannot be bothered with any of that.
The most important thing about cooking with eggplant is to make sure it is not undercooked. Undercooked eggplant has a cottony texture and can cause intestinal distress. Properly cooked eggplant should quite soft.
Just Plain Grilled Eggplant Slices
This is one of my favorite ways to do eggplant, but it is so easy that it seems silly to write a recipe for it. Just brush it with olive oil, chargrill it on both sides until nice and floppy, and then toss it a balsamic vinaigrette with chopped herbs. This makes a wonderful and healthy appetizer, a nice side dish or a great sandwich ingredient (with a little arugula, sliced ripe tomato and fresh mozzarella).
Japanese-style Grilled Eggplant for 6-8
This is also incredibly easy. For this dish I usually use 3-4 long Asian eggplants, but have also made it with globe eggplants. First, slice each eggplant into 4-6 slices almost to the stem, so that it kind of looks like an octopus. If you have a big globe eggplant, cut it in half lengthwise first and then slice almost to the stem. Rub it with a little vegetable and throw it onto the grill until it gets nice and mushy.
As it cooks, combine ½ cup of mayonnaise with about 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and a little dollop of soy sauce, and mix in about ¼ cup of toasted sesame seeds. When the eggplant is done, slice off the stem and toss everything together.
Indian-inspired Eggplant for 4
Earlier this year, Foodiesan made a trip to India, the birthplace of eggplant and hundreds of ways to bake, braise, grill, steam and sauté it. One of my favorite is Baingan Bharta, which I’ve have since been playing around with in a variety of ways. I have tried smoking a whole eggplant, grilling it over a gas burner and roasting it at high heat (like 500 degrees) for 20-30 minutes. I find that the most efficient and dependable approach is to roast it in the oven—which still produces a nice smoky flavor.
Take it out of the oven and let it cool a bit. While you are waiting, sauté a finely chopped onion, 3-5 cloves of garlic, minced serrano, a couple spoonfuls of grated ginger, and a couple of chopped tomatoes in a capacious pan. Rip the eggplant open and pull shreds of lusciousness out of the collapsed peel. After adding it to the sautéed vegetables, season the dish with about ½ teaspoon of turmeric, 2 teaspoons of garam masala, 1 teaspoon of curry powder, and about a cup of frozen peas. Salt and pepper to taste.
Eggplant Hoi-An for 1 or 2
This is a recipe that I adapted from Kim Fay’s Communion: A Culinary Journey through Vietnam (Copyright 2010 by Things Asian Press), which brought back wonderful memories of the lovely time we had last year in Vietnam. If you can get the slicing done right, the dish is quite beautiful. If you can’t get the slicing done right, it will still taste good.
Start with a medium sized globe eggplant. Slice it halfway down in ¼ inch slices, then flip it over, turn it 90 degrees, and do the same thing. Don’t be confused—all will become clear. At this point you can soak the eggplant for 30 minutes in cold, salted water. Up to you.
Then steam the eggplant for 7 minutes or so, until it’s soft, but not soggy. While it is steaming, make a simple little sauce of 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of brown sugar. After the eggplant is done steaming, take it off the heat and squeeze it between two plates to flatten it, draining off excess liquid. If all goes well, you should have a lovely set of overlapping eggplant fans.
Sear the eggplant in a frying pan about 3-4 minutes on each side, until it is brown and crispy. Put it/them onto a serving plate and sauté a chopped green onion, 2 minced garlic cloves and chopped hot green chili for a bit, then add 4 tablespoons of fish sauce. Put that all on top of the eggplant. Then drizzle the soy sauce/sugar mixture over it all. Garnish with mint and cilantro.