Thursday, August 28, 2008
For most of my life, eggplant was something brown, fried, covered in parmesan and served on pasta. Or in college, said brown disks bought from trader joes, where they waited in my freezer to be drowned in tomato sauce for a quick lunch.
I'm guessing that many others have a similar experience and, therefore, treat the eggplant in its natural form as something alien, as I did. Smooth, shiny and improbably purple-skinned, the Eggplant in my book is one of the tamer "Things I don't automatically pick up at the market."
To my detriment. Now that I've found them I can make up for lost time.
The eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, along with potatoes, tomatoes and bell peppers (which is probably why these ingredients work so well together) . In fact, when first introduced to Europe, tomatoes took an unusually long time to become accepted as edible due to its resemblance to belladonna or Deadly Nightshade.
Unlike the tomato, Eggplants are native to the Old World, and are found in Southeast Asia and India. They come in all kinds of shapes and colors outside of what is normally found in the supermarket - anywhere from long, thin and purple, to tiny egg-shaped 'graffiti' purple-and-white striped, to pure white or green.
As far as storage goes, like other tropical plants, eggplant should NEVER be stored in the freezer. Oh, it might look okay on the outside, but the flesh will get soft, watery and bitter within a few days.
The BEST thing about eggplant, though, is the incredible texture it can take on, due to the structure of its flesh. Eggplant has a lot of air pockets in the flesh,which makes it spongy. The flesh collapses as cell walls break down during cooking and it reduces quite a bit in volume. Whats left is this beautifully creamy stuff that can be pureed into dips and sauces, baked or fried to create a crisp crust and a melting interior, or fantastic simply grilled or broiled. The spongy structure also means that eggplant will greedily suck up any oil basted on it during cooking, which can make the finished product wonderfully rich.
There is really only one step for veggie prep here which is needed for larger eggplants, which is that slices should be salted and left to sit for a few minutes before use. Large eggplants contain brown seeds that have a bitter taste, and salting will draw moisture out, balancing the bitterness. It also will give the slices better structure upon cooking due to less moisture.
Since I'm new to this beautiful veggie, my preparations are pretty simple:
slice lengthwise about a half-inch thick, baste with a mixture of olive oil, salt, pepper and minced garlic, and pop under the broiler. check every few minutes to flip and re-baste, until browned on both sides. Eat. (maybe stuff some tomatoes with garlic and fresh mozzerella, and broil them alongside!)
Ok, and sometimes batter, fry, drown in tomato sauce and put on pasta.