Love eggplant, but don’t want to fry it? Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst brings host Robin Young three dishes that use roasted eggplant for maximum flavor.
Eggplant, also called aubergine, garden egg and brinjal, is a member of the nightshade family along with tomatoes and green peppers. Considered a fruit, eggplant is native to India.
When it was first introduced in England, it was thought to be poisonous. But eggplant is now beloved the world over. Its meaty texture means it can be sauteed, roasted, steamed, fried, baked and made into salads, fries, dips, gratins, curries, casseroles and more. It has an affinity for tomatoes, basil, anchovies, mint, ginger and garlic.
There are two issues with eggplant that plague most cooks: The first is that eggplant can be quite bitter. There are a few ways to deal with this. The first is to know that bitterness develops with age, so you want to try to shop for eggplants at a farmers market where the eggplant will be younger and fresher. Always look for younger, smaller eggplant as they tend to be less bitter.
If you’re buying eggplant from the supermarket, the best way to draw out the bitter juices is to salt the flesh. Cut the eggplant in half or into multiple pieces (depending on what the recipe calls for), place in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt. Place a plate on top and weigh it down with a can of soup or beans to push the eggplant down. Leave for about 30 minutes. Bitter juices should be released. Rinse the eggplant pieces to remove the salt and dry thoroughly. You can then proceed with the recipe.
The second issue is that eggplant is like a sponge and soaks up large quantities of oil and other flavors. Oil is a problem. Other flavors is a good thing. To avoid soaking up a lot of oil, I like to roast the eggplant first to soften it so it doesn’t need to be cooked in lots of oil. Follow the recipes below.
Eggplant is found throughout the fall. Look for young, smaller fruit that feels firm, heavy in your hand and not mushy. The skin should be smooth and glossy with no bruises or scars.
There are dozens of different types of eggplant in every shape, size, color and texture. There are even more heirloom varieties. Some of the most common and popular include:
Eggplant Parmesan, that classic Italian favorite, tends to be heavy with a load of cheese and oil. This version calls for a roasted eggplant that is thinly sliced and layered with tomato slices, fresh mozzarella, basil leaves and just a drizzle of olive oil.
The dish is baked just before serving and is delicious on its own or served with pasta. This makes enough for two generous servings but can easily be doubled or tripled.
A simplified version of a Thai green curry, this eggplant dish is rich with coconut milk, ginger, cilantro, garlic and scallions. The flavors are sophisticated considering how quickly this dish comes together. Serve with brown or white rice and a sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro, and scallions.
Serves 2 to 4.
*Available in the Asian aisles at most supermarkets or in Asian groceries.
Think of this sweet-and-sour eggplant condiment as a Sicilian-style ratatouille. Made with eggplant, peppers, celery, garlic, capers, raisins and vinegar, caponata is delicious served with cheese platters, on crackers or alongside grilled fish, chicken or meat. The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.
Makes about 6 cups.
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