Eggplant Realities and Recipes
All the eggplant dishes I cook require the following knowledge; picking the proper eggplant is what makes the difference between a dish that is bitter and one that is sweet and lovely tasting. Whether the eggplants are Japanese style or your traditional fat purple variety; the key is how heavy they are. The only proper way to pick an eggplant is to get involved in the veggie bin or with your farmer. If you are at your local market you may need to rearrange or make a mess for the grocery clerk to deal with. I actually recommend budgeting the time to arrange the eggplants back when you are done so as to ensure future harmony between yourself and the person who stocks your groceries. The deal is, you have to pick up every eggplant and compare it with every other eggplant. The heavier ones go in the reject pile, the lighter ones go in the keep pile. If there are ten eggplants and you only want three, after you’ve selected the five lighter ones, repeat the process with your remaining five until you’ve got the three lightest eggplants. If they are all heavy, make a different dish because it just isn’t worth the time and effort. All the eggplant recipes I know take hours to make, (with the exception of Baba Ghanoush) so if you don’t have a good eggplant to start with, why bother?
The following recipe is an adaptation of one from Madhur Jaffrey’s World- of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking. This cookbook is in my Top Five Cookbooks List. Check out Ms. Jaffrey’s blog and link to her books above.
- three to five eggplants (depends on size of eggplant, this dish always amazing, so making more means left-overs and this dish is amazing a day later as well)
- olive oil, grape-seed or canola oil (at least 1/3 inch or more so you cover the pan for frying the eggplant in)
- two to three large tomatoes or 5 small ones (chopped small)
- one bunch of green onions (chopped finely)
- one bunch of fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped finely
- fresh ground pepper
- lots of good salt (kosher or other high quality, see Let’s Talk Salt for details)
Slice the eggplants into rounds, not super thin, ½ inch thick. Cut into wedges or halves if you are using a big eggplant or just keep them in the rounds if you are using the thinner japanese style eggplants. Sprinkle with a goodly amount of salt and put them in a colander. Place the colander in a large bowl so the liquid that sweats off the eggplants can drain. They will have to sweat for at least 30 minutes.
I recommend having 2 non–stick or well–seasoned cast–iron pans going to speed up the cooking process. Heat a lot of oil, olive oil is my preference, or some combination of olive oil and another oil, about 1/3 inch of oil per pan until the oil is hot, but not smoking ever! Medium heat will work fine. Lay out several clean dish towels and put the salted eggplant rounds or wedges on the towels. With another dry dish towel pat the eggplants dry. I endeavor not to use paper products in my kitchen, but if you have to use paper towels, I’ll never know.
Place the dried wedges in the oil. They will be in the oil for a while, until they turn reddish-brown, then turn them over somewhere between three and five minutes per side. Have another colander next to your stove, also sitting in a bowl. When the wedges are reddish-brown on both sides, take them out with a fork, letting as much oil as you can drip back into the pan, and put them in the clean colander. This process is the time-consuming part of this adventure in cuisine . It will take about 40 minutes to an hour or more standing over several pans of hot oil with lots of wedges of eggplant in them for a dish that everyone will love and which will be consumed in ten minutes.
You have to love your guests to make this dish for them. While the eggplants are cooking and you are checking on them, you can prepare the tomatoes and the onions. Chop finely the parsley, and green onions. You can do the tomatoes in smallish chunks, not tiny, and place all of this in a bowl together.
When all the eggplant wedges have been cooked, drain the largest of your pans (that has a lid) of the hot oil. Do not wash out this pan just drain it. Put it back on the stove and turn it on low, put the cooked eggplant wedges and all the other ingredients in the pan and stir them up so they are combined well. Grind a ton of black pepper over all of this, mix and cover. Cook on low heat for about 15–20 minutes, stirring two or three times. You won’t need extra oil or salt.
Serve this with Paul’s Perfect Raita and some fresh greens. You can make a grain like couscous or rice and some kind of tofu or fish dish or just eat this plain with a good ethnic bread. Make sure you scrape the pan of the yummy juices when you are done. This dish is also great a few days later, so if you want to make it ahead of time and then refrigerate it, that’s fine. It takes two to three hours from start to finish to make. Important tips, using more than one pan to fry wedges in, lightly wiping the salt or salt sweat off each wedge, breathing a lot and not attempting this dish with children nearby. If it didn’t take so long to do, I’d make it every week in the summer months when eggplants and tomatoes are at their peak.