Cooking with Eggplants

Perhaps because of its unusual shape and color the mighty eggplant is under-utilized in recipes. Even so it has incredible versatility and has gained status as one of the best substitutes for meat outside of tofu or textured vegetable protein.

Aubergine Parmagiana

One reason the eggplant is so often ignored may be its rather bland taste. Picking up a piece of raw eggplant and biting into it reveals a spongy texture followed by a taste that is well…nothingness. This fact does not immediately endear those who have never experimented with eggplant. However, those who have made it a regular element in their dishes - after some playing around in the kitchen - find this to be an incredibly versatile fruit, featuring it in main courses and as a side dish component.

Even the best-picked eggplants tend to be bland. For many cooks in the know, there is a beauty in cooking with them. They find this "tastelessness" is part of eggplant's charm. This is because it allows for real creativity and experimentation with flavor. Eggplants can complement almost any savory flavor.

Even so, there is one instance when raw, unflavored eggplant can contribute to a dish. It may be diced into salads. In this case it contributes texture rather than taste. In a salad, especially with a flavorful oil-based dressing, it will become a great sponge and the cubes will become a strong burst of flavor to complement the rest of the vegetables where the dressing merely coats the outer edges.

Eggplant can certainly be enjoyed with minimal preparation. Consider the following simple recipe for a delicious side dish.

Lemony Garlic Eggplant

1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
The juice of ½ lemon
Sea Salt
Finely-chopped garlic
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil.

For this quick pleaser, leave the skin on the outside and cut to thickness (you can experiment with this as well but thicker slices ensure that you will not have flavor overkill — an easy mistake to make with eggplant). Brush the tops of the slices very lightly with the oil and wash brush thoroughly. Allow the oil to soak in for about 30 seconds (while you wash your brush) and paint another layer of lemon juice liberally on top of the oil. Finish this off with a punch each of coarse sea salt and chopped garlic and eat either fresh (no cooking necessary) or for a side dish, pop these in your oven at 300° Fahrenheit (149° Celsius) until warmed. The object is not to cook the eggplant, just to get it nice and moist with heat circulating to move the oil down and flavors through.

To Peel or Not to Peel

These are two of the most frequently-asked questions about eggplants. Peeling is really a matter of personal taste. There are no hard and fast rules. Some have speculated that peeling them keeps them moist during cooking and some also worry that the tough skin is not appetizing or easy to chew.

The tough outer skin is usually relatively thin and has some of the best health benefit. If nutrition is the goal, leave that healthy skin on. For salads and when smaller pieces are being served without cooking, taste a sample bit of skin, if it is so chewy that it is distracting, it might be best to trim it away using a vegetable peeler.

To Salt or Not to Salt

Salting really is a must unless health or stringent recipe restrictions make this impossible. Salt tastes great, but more importantly, the salt brings all of the juices that impart the bitter flavor out of eggplants and neutralizes them. It also prevents “over oiling”, which happens when eggplant soaks up too much oil-based flavor, losing itself in the oil versus its own texture. Using coarse sea salt gives a nice crunch that sets off the spongy texture. Nevertheless, common table salt does well, too.

Those comfortable with eggplant may want to feature it as an entrée. Try a baked eggplant dish like Baked Eggplant Italiano. It is hassle free and is an exciting way to showcase what is possible with a fruit that is, on its own, a little bland.

<< Plant, Grow, and Harvest Eggplants | Baked Eggplant Italiano Recipe >>

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