From M., 4 January 2010, Eggplant – can you use it for anything besides eggplant parmesan?
Q: Hi! This week’s green grocer delivery box will contain eggplant this week, and I think my family isn’t too excited about yet another eggplant parmegian. Do you have any suggestions for a quickly-prepared eggplant recipe for me to whip up and impress the family? Blog looks gorgeous and is terrifically helpful, by the way!
A: Thank you! You know, I never cared for eggplant. It always struck me as a bitter, strangely-textured, greasy vegetable (fruit, really, from a botanical standpoint). No doubt that’s down to the terrible eggplant parmesan dishes I’ve eaten over the years.
That changed when I decided I would cook it myself. Here’s the deal with eggplant – it is bitter. It does have a funny texture. And, because of that texture, it soaks up grease like a sponge if you don’t deal with it first. As I mentioned in an earlier post, if you want to cut the grease, microwave the eggplant. The great Harold McGee, food scientist extraordinaire, reminds us that eggplant is a notorious sponge for oil because of its cellular structure. Collapse that structure, and the eggplant absorbs less oil. Although conventionally people salt eggplant (and other spongy vegetable-fruits like summer squash), McGee’s solution – a couple of minutes in the microwave before proceeding – presents a more effective and more healthful alternative. This is the best way to improve the texture of eggplant before frying.
Of course, you don’t have to microwave your eggplant to make it tasty. You can brush it with an oil marinade just before grilling, roast it for a creamy purée, or a soup, spiked with lemon juice and a little garlicky yoghurt.
Grilled smoky eggplant
Eggplant soaks up oil, so if you want a less greasy eggplant (and you don’t want to resort to the microwave method), it stands to reason that you should minimize the eggplant’s contact with oil. For this dish, prepare a lemon-olive oil marinade, well flavored, and brush it on the eggplant just before grilling, on each side just before grilling that side.
1 large globe eggplant or two Japanese eggplant, sliced lengthwise 1/2″ thick
juice of 1 juicy lemon (or two, if necessary), about 1/4 c
1/3 c olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón de la vera)
Fire the grill. Otherwise, you may use a grill pan (or even a skillet).
Whisk together the juice, the salt, and the paprika; then slowly whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream until well emulsified.
When the coals are ready, brush one side of the eggplant slices with the marinade and immediately place on the grill. Otherwise, place the grill pan (or skillet) over medium-high heat and, once hot, brush one side of the eggplant slices with the marinade and immediately place in the pan. After about 2 minutes (longer if your grill is not terribly hot, less if it is very hot or you are using a skillet), lift with tongs to check a corner for grill marks; if they are well marked, rotate the slices 90 degrees (you can skip this if you are using a skillet), and cook another minute or so until well marked.
After rotating, brush the exposed side of the eggplant with more marinade, and flip over. Repeat the cooking as above. Remove to a plate and keep warm in a 180F oven.
Roasted eggplant purée
Roasting eggplant in the oven makes it tender. You can scoop it right out of the skins, and puree it for use as a side dish, enriched with butter or Turkish cheese, or use it as the base for a creamy soup.
2 globe eggplant, about 1 lb each
6 cloves garlic confit
juice of one lemon
3 tbsp butter
salt and pepper
Pierce the eggplant with a fork in several places and place on a lightly oiled sheet pan (line with foil for easy cleanup if you like). Place in the hot oven and roast, about 1 hour, until completely collapsed and tender.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool somewhat. When cool enough to handle, split in half, scoop out the seeds and discard if you can do so without discarding the flesh (otherwise, don’t worry about it), and then scoop out the flesh. Place in a blender with the garlic confit, butter, and lemon juice, and purée until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
If you like, add about 1/2 c grated Kasseri cheese while blending.
2 c eggplant purée, from above
1 medium onion, diced
4-6 c chicken stock (low sodium broth is acceptable as well)
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
salt and pepper
juice of one lemon
1 c Greek yoghurt
1 small clove garlic, minced to a paste with 1/4 tsp salt
Combine the yoghurt and the garlic; cover tightly and refrigerate.
Set a 4 quart pot over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp olive oil. Add the onions and sweat until translucent. Add the eggplant purée, herbs, and the stock. Bring to a simmer and simmer another 15-20 minutes.
Remove the thyme and bay leaf; discard. Place in a blender (or use an immersion blender); blend until smooth. If it is too thick, add some chicken stock, blend again, and then return to the pot to heat. If it is too thin, return to the pot and simmer until it thickens.
Add about half the lemon juice; season with salt and pepper to taste. If it needs more acidity, add more lemon juice. Serve hot with a dollop of the cold garlic yoghurt (and snipped flat leaf parsley, if you have it).