Eggplant Five Ways

“No other vegetable is so content to abandon itself to your will,” Ruth Reichl wrote of eggplant in her 2015 cookbook, “My Kitchen Year.” Though if you’re skeptical, here’s one way to quickly gain some confidence: Start with her simple eggplant salad, which I’ve made so many times since first reading about it I’ve lost track.

Use a fork to prick the eggplant, then singe it right on the flame of a gas stove, or under the broiler, until the skin is charred and the meat is tender — don’t baby it now, really let it smolder! Be patient — eggplant is firm and spongy when undercooked, but give it a little more time and it shifts over to tender, luxurious and creamy.

Peel away the burned skin, and mash the soft eggplant meat into a bowl. In Ruth’s recipe, she adds fish sauce (you can use a vegetarian fish sauce), lime juice, a pinch of sugar, garlic and chile, and once it’s chilled, covers it with herbs. But this technique of submitting the eggplant whole to a flame, then skinning it, is a great way to start any number of dishes.

Try seasoning with sesame oil, rice vinegar, raw chiles and cilantro. Or chopped tomatoes, red wine vinegar, capers, garlic and parsley. Add tahini, lemon juice and zest, and garlic. Once you can confidently sear a whole eggplant, you can certainly sauté, roast or even steam it.

Hetty McKinnon’s new vegan version of dan dan noodles is delicious, with eggplant dusted with Sichuan pepper standing in for the usual meaty topping. To make it, you sauté pieces of eggplant with a little oil and soy sauce and cover the pan, but keep it moving every minute or so to get even tenderness and color. I made it on Monday and loved the dish so much, that when eggplant isn’t in season, I’ll make it again with mushrooms, frozen spinach, fresh bok choy, shredded cabbage or just a big pile of sliced raw cucumbers.

This is one of those irresistible dishes from Eric Kim that I bring up really often here because, well, it’s just that good! Eric fries scallions to make the garnish as well as the deeply flavored scallion oil for stir-frying the eggplant. That oil is key, but so is the final step of glazing the eggplant with a little seasoned gochujang that sticks to each piece and caramelizes in the hot pan. Tip: Pair cold leftovers the next day with a rich, buttery cracker for a no-nonsense cocktail snack that’s reminiscent of smoked oysters on crackers.

In David Tanis’s recipe for a Turkish-style eggplant salad, you char the whole vegetable over charcoal, on a gas flame or under a broiler, then peel away the burned skin. Simply add garlic, lemon, yogurt and mint to the warm, roughly chopped eggplant, along with a glug of olive oil. It’s perfect with warm pita bread and crudités. Note: Pomegranate molasses, made from boiling down the tart juice, is a wonderful addition, but it’s fine to skip it and compensate with more lemon juice instead.

You can peel and chop a big haul of fresh tomatoes to make David Tanis’s pasta alla Norma — a great use for any of the lumpy, bruised, on-sale tomatoes you sometimes find at the market — but good quality canned tomatoes work well, too. And here’s a great hack if you’re not in the mood to stand and fry in batches: Dice the eggplant, toss with oil and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes before adding it back to the sauce.

Round, baby eggplants, which you can often find at South Asian grocery stores, fit neatly in your hand. They’re the perfect shape for this Gujarati recipe from Niven Patel, in which you split the vegetable open crosswise, pulling it apart like a flower so you can fill it with a spicy mash of peanuts seasoned with garlic, ginger and chiles. Once stuffed, the eggplants steam together in a little water until they’re tender, but still totally intact — an extremely simple but rewarding technique.

I love to buy baby Indian eggplants, as well as long, slender varieties of Chinese, Japanese and Korean eggplants most often, in part because so many of them are thin-skinned, lower in water content, and grown locally where I shop. Regardless of the variety you’re after, try to pick the firm, heavy-for-their-size eggplant that have tight, shiny skins.

Thanks for reading The Veggie, and see you next week!


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