Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 07:39PM
Mark Bittman writes about the versatility of the eggplant in todays New York Times. I happen to agree that there are no vegetables more enticing to me than an eggplant. In fact, you can always find one in my fridge and if I could get my act together, you would find them growing in my garden again this year. Enjoy reading Bittman's expose on the "Meaty and Mighty" eggplant and make sure to share your favorite eggplant recipe with SFHL readers in the comments section below. And for a few of my favorite eggplant recipes, click the links below: Eggplant Ratatouille Eggplant Bake Eggplant Boat o' Veggies Lebanese Roasted Eggplant Salad Roasted Eggplant Chickpea Soup Moroccan Tomato and Eggplant over Couscous Veggie Burgers Meaty and Mighty Praising the Versatile Eggplant Reposted from The New York Times by Mark Bittman "Eggplant stands alone, a vegetable like no other. Actually, because eggplant is a fruit, like the tomato, to which it’s closely related, it’s safer to label it a food like no other, beloved and appreciated worldwide and deserving of respect, not as a meat substitute but as a treasure in itself. It isn’t a competition, but if you asked me the old desert-island question, I’d take eggplant before any meat I could think of (and, yes, that includes bacon). It would be ridiculous to claim that eggplant can outperform meat, but it’s not a stretch to see it as useful as any one cut of meat. It can take myriad forms, as appetizer, side dish or sauce. It can fill the center of the plate as nicely as anything. This isn’t the place to discuss health effects, but ever since people stopped believing that the nightshade family, of which it is a member, was poisonous, it’s been considered nothing but beneficial. You can eat eggplant every day, in season at least, and all it’s going to do is make you happy. This was reinforced for me three times this spring when I spent a little time in Sicily, where a warmer climate produces an earlier eggplant season. On the first occasion, I had the key ingredients for a mashed eggplant dish akin to baba ghanouj (eggplant, garlic and a wood fire) but no others. I propped those eggplants against the coals and allowed them to blister, blacken and soften; I did pretty much the same with the garlic. As I was once taught in India, where eggplant is indigenous, I held the shriveled fruits up by their stems with one hand and peeled them with the other. The flesh I mashed with that of the softened garlic, lemon and salt for a dish nothing short of glorious. You cannot achieve the same flavor without a wood fire (even real charcoal is only second best), but roasting in a hot oven results in perfectly tender eggplant, which you can use for an ad hoc dish like the one I just described, or for classic baba ghanouj. This treatment addresses the most common question about eggplant, which is, “Should I salt it?” There is more than one answer: If you’re slicing eggplant and you’re looking for an ultra-firm (O.K., meaty) texture, salt the slices and after 30 to 60 minutes, press them between paper towels before cooking. This technique works with many vegetables, because the salt draws out moisture. But if you imagine that you’re salting to draw out what used to be called “the bitter principle,” don’t bother. Eggplant isn’t bitter. That mashed wood-grilled eggplant was quite sweet, needing a lot of lemon. And if you’re salting because you think the eggplant will absorb less oil when it cooks, that’s a mistaken notion also. Eggplant is a sponge, and as long as you’re using good-tasting oil, it isn’t a problem. (As for the question “Should I peel it?” I think that with the exception of that blistered black skin in Sicily, I can unequivocally answer: never.) A couple of nights later, a friend made pasta alla Norma, a dish that is Sicilian. It’s really no more than lovingly sautéed eggplant finished in tomato sauce, tossed with pasta and topped with ricotta salata. Dry feta isn’t a bad substitute, and pecorino Romano and Parmesan are fine as well. While frying the eggplant, one of those leisurely kitchen tasks that takes a while but is nevertheless a pleasure, I was reminded of a variety of eggplant dishes I’ve eaten and made and savored over the years. One was a version of Parmesan made at the sadly-now-closed Shiek’s in Torrington, Conn., in which the eggplant was salted and pressed into thin, tough slices before layering with way too much mozzarella, in true Italian-American style. Also memorable were the various versions of boiled eggplant you see in Japan, one of which I’ve replicated here. (If you have never boiled eggplant, you must try this one.) There was the incomparable dish of mostly eggplant skin, it seemed to me, along with cherry tomatoes and loads of basil and oil, highly unusual and incredibly enjoyable, at La Tavernetta, in Naples. And there were the various “why is this so good?” Sichuan eggplant recipes (answer: they’re fried) as well as the perhaps overrated Turkish classic imam biyaldi, which translated means “the priest fainted,” and my first baingan bharta, which I made myself at home, from a Julie Sahni recipe, and in which the eggplant is roasted in precisely the same way as it is for baba ghanouj. My final Sicilian eggplant dish was at Ardigna, a restaurant in the remote, nearly deserted hills east of Marsala, where the antipasti was varied and sensational. A friend had told me this was “the only restaurant that matters,” which was perhaps a bit extreme. But among the dishes was a caponata so inspiring that, back home, I searched for and found in Chinatown, naturally, a few of those long, slender, lavender eggplants, and made a caponata of my own. Over fairly high heat, I softened sliced onions and green bell pepper in plenty of olive oil. As they cooked, I chopped and added the eggplant, along with crushed dried red peppers, capers, pine nuts, chopped green olives, raisins and a bit of sugar. After that had all cooked down, I stirred in tomato paste and vinegar. I then ate a bit, packed up the rest, hit the road and proceeded to virtually live on it for two days. Show me a meat dish you can say that about."