from Chris Halpin
Eggplant is a vegetable that is often misunderstood and can be a little intimidating for many cooks. First, it isn’t actually a vegetable, it’s a fruit, specifically a berry, from the nightshade family and related to the tomato, sweet pepper and potato. If you don’t cook it properly, it can be bitter or greasy or have a most unpleasant texture! If you don’t like eggplant, it’s because you’ve never had it cooked properly.
I love eggplant so much that I consider it a comfort food. It has a remarkable ability to be silky or toothsome and goes well with anything acidic or garlicky.
There are many varieties of eggplant, but the ones most commonly found in our markets are globe, Chinese, sometimes called Japanese, and Italian, also called mini. We’re most familiar with the globe’s pear shape that’s about six to eight inches long and dark purple. The Chinese variety is longer and narrower, dark or light purple and mild in favour. The Italian variety looks and tastes very similar to the globe but is much smaller, which is why it’s often referred to as a mini. When this variety grows and has not yet turned purple, it’s easy to see why it’s called “egg”plant.
When choosing an eggplant, be sure that it’s firm, evenly coloured, heavy for its size, and not too large – which will ensure it’s not too seedy.
Eggplant oxidizes (turns brown) quickly, so be sure to either roll it in oil, salt it or squeeze lemon over it shortly after cutting to keep it from turning brown.
Eggplant readily absorbs oil, so if you’re sautéing it, make sure to have a very hot pan before adding the oil and eggplant. This will help keep it from becoming greasy. Here are six of my favourite recipes:
1. Baba Ganoush Dip
Randomly poke holes into a large globe eggplant, four or five times, then coat the skin with olive oil and place it on a baking sheet. Roast in a pre-heated 400ºF oven until soft, about 25 to 30 minutes, then remove and cool. Put ١/٤ c. olive oil and 1 large diced onion into a sauté pan and sauté the onion until translucent, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. When the eggplant has cooled, scoop the flesh out and place it in a food processor with the onions, 2 crushed garlic cloves, the juice of 2 lemons, 2 t. coriander, 1 t. salt and ١/٢ t. hot sauce. Purée until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add ١/٢ c. chopped parsley and blend a little more until well mixed. Chill and serve with flatbreads or vegetable crudité. Makes about 2 cups.
2. Eggplant Roulade Provençal
Pre-heat the oven to 400ºF. Slice 2 medium globe eggplants lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices, brush both sides with olive oil, arrange on a baking sheet and salt lightly. Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until soft and pliable. Remove and cool. Grate 2 small zucchini, squeeze out the excess liquid and place in a bowl. Add 2 garlic cloves, crushed, 1 t. nutmeg, ١/٢ t. dried thyme, 1 t. white pepper, ١/٢ c. bread crumbs and ١/٢ c. grated parmesan cheese. Add 1 egg and mix well. Lay out the eggplant slices and, at the bottom of each slice, place about 3 T. of the zucchini filling and roll. Place the eggplant rolls seam-side down on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with your favourite tomato sauce, as a starter, or as a side for a main course. Serves 4.
3. Lamb Stuffed Italian Eggplant
Pre-heat the oven to 350ºF. In a bowl put 1 lb. ground lamb, 1 t. cumin, 1 T. paprika, 1 t. chile flakes, 1/2 t. cinnamon, 1/2 t. dried savoury, 1 small grated onion, 1 t. salt, 1 egg and ١/٤ c. bread crumbs. Mix until the breadcrumbs are well moistened. Slice 8 Italian eggplants almost in half lengthwise, hinged from the stem down. Place them in a bowl and coat them with 2 T. olive oil and the juice of 1 lemon. Place the eggplants on a baking sheet and stuff each with as much lamb as possible between the two halves. Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the eggplants are soft and the lamb is cooked through. Serves 4.
4. Eggplant, White Wine Mélange with Tortellini
In a skillet, heat 2 T. each butter and olive oil over high heat. Add 1 small diced onion and ١/٢ small fennel bulb, shaved, and sauté until the onions start to soften, about 2 minutes. Add 20 mushrooms, sliced, 1 t. chile flakes, 1 t. herbes de provence, 1 t. salt and sauté about 5 minutes. Add 1 small globe eggplant, diced, and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes before adding 1 basket of grapes tomatoes, ١/٤ c. white wine and 2 crushed garlic cloves. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Squash the tomatoes when they’re soft. Meanwhile, cook your choice of tortellini, drain well and mix with the mélange, adjusting the salt. Serve with grated parmesan cheese. Serves 4.
5. Grilled Eggplant and Pepper Salad with Pine Nuts and Parmesan
Pre-heat the grill to hot. Halve and core 3 peppers, any colour. Slice 2 Chinese eggplants crosswise 1/4-inch-thick and brush with olive oil. Grill the peppers and eggplant until soft and well marked, about 5 minutes on each side. Place in a bowl and cover until cooled and wilted. Cut the peppers into wedges, return to the bowl and add ١/٢ minced red onion. Season with salt and pepper, 1/4 c. champagne vinegar and 2 T. olive oil, mix well and sprinkle with 2 T. chopped dill, shaved parmesan and toasted pine nuts before serving. This is good served either hot or chilled, I love it with grilled sausages or lamb chops. Serve 4.
6. Eggplant Napoleon with a Warm Raspberry Mustard Dressing
Blend 1 c. raspberries, 2 T. grainy mustard and ١/٤ c. mirin (rice wine, available at Asian groceries) until smooth, then pour into a bowl.
Cut 4 half-inch-wide slices each of globe eggplant and tomato – make sure the eggplant and tomato are about the same width – and brush each side with olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and salt, place the slices on a hot grill and cook about 5 minutes on each side. In a bowl, mix together ١/٢ c. chèvre, 1/2 t. each nutmeg and white pepper, and 2 T. each chopped chives and parsley. Form into four patties, but save some cheese crumbs for garnish. Construct the napoleons by placing a chèvre patty on top of the eggplant and the tomato on top of the chèvre. Serve either warm or at room temperature. To serve, smear some of the raspberry dressing onto 4 plates and place a napoleon in the centre. Garnish with chopped black olives, chèvre crumbles and capers. Serves 4.