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Vegetables
oct 10, 2020

Simply Eggplant

Eggplant. Brinjal. Aubergine. มะเขือ. Garden Egg. Nasu. Biringani. 茄子. Whatever the language, the word prompts glee from crowds of cooks and eaters and downcast looks of dread from others. Happily, our instructors have converted many an eggplant-fearing student by teaching a wide variety of ways it may be prepared. We'll share some of those below.
We admit to buying eggplant all year round, though its official California season ends circa late October. Summer into mid Fall you are most likely to find a great glorious mix at the farmers markets: long and slender, petite and egg-shaped (hence the North American name), grand and globelike, in moody purple-black, stark white or show-off violet stripes. Varieties around the world range from red to yellow to green, too.
Eggplant are usually quite bitter. Some recipes instruct us to salt the flesh after cutting, then rest and drain, or even rinse and wring it out, to purge some of the bitterness before cooking. For many cooking methods, like charring, roasting whole and steaming, pre-salting is not needed. When it's called for, we comply, assuming the author has tested the recipe that way and found it necessary.
Here are but a few of the ways to wind up with some delicious eggplant on your plate:
  • Cooked down gradually in plentiful olive oil, happily married with fragrant onions and tomato, with sweet bell peppers in Ratatouille (recipe below), or made irresistibly agrodolce in Caponata. Or made into a hearty vegetarian meal on a sheet pan in Sami Tamimi's Musaqa’a.
  • Deployed in a totally comforting curry in Mchuzi Wa Biringani from The Congo Cookbook. Or stuffed and cooked into a meltingly rich, nutty vegetarian feast in Niven Patel's Eggplant Ravaiya (we know this one is behind a paywall; the recipe is so good that it alone justifies a subscription to NYTimes Cooking, if you can manage it).
  • Simply charred over a flame or under a broiler, or roasted until collapsed in a blazing oven, no oil needed at all. Peel away the blackened skin, and put your imagination to work. Whip the eggplant into a luscious, creamy dressing for crisp lettuces, or season and spread it on a platter as a scoopable dip, perhaps with some help from great aubergine evangelist Yotam Ottolenghi.
  • Finally, take a most simple approach, as we did this week while cooking Grilled Eggplant with Herbs from Sonoko Sakai's Japanese Home Cooking: Pierce Japanese eggplant a few times with the tip of a knife before setting them a few inches below your broiler to darken, lightly char (turn as needed), and fully soften. Briefly rinse under cool water, then gently peel off the skins. Sprinkle with slivered scallions, the juice squeezed from a couple of inches of peeled, grated ginger, chopped shiso leaves, toasted, ground sesame seeds, and a shower of feather-light bonito flakes. Dipped in soy sauce, it was simply wonderful.
Whatever you're cooking, eggplant or otherwise, we're always here for questions and comments!
Recipe

Farewell to Summer Ratatouille

Author Frances Wilson

Ratatouille is a hearty vegetable stew (as well as a charming movie) from Provence in the South of France. It can be served hot or cold, as a side dish or as the main course. Serve it on top of polenta or pasta. It's a great do-ahead dish as its flavors improve with time. It will keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Yield   Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 cup onion, sliced

¼ cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium eggplant, cut in ¾-inch cubes

2 medium peppers, 1 yellow and 1 green, seeded and cut in ¾-inch pieces

4 medium zucchini, cut in ¾-inch cubes

4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

½ cup red wine

1 teaspoon salt packed capers

1 bouquet garni with parsley stems, bay leaf and sprigs of thyme

Coarse salt and pepper

1 tablespoon chopped basil

Directions

Sauté the onion in 2-3 tablespoons of the olive oil until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and eggplant, adding more olive oil if necessary. Sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the peppers and zucchini, again adding more oil as you need it. Sauté until slightly soft.
Add the tomatoes, wine, capers and bouquet garni. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil and then simmer gently for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Finish with the chopped basil.