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Eggplant is Delicious!

If you’re inclined to be skeptical about the title of this post, be assured that I understand. Aubergines (aka eggplant) can be hard to love, and it took me years to get to the the enthusiasm expressed here. Too often, we encounter them as oddly spongy, chewy things, either devoid of taste or unpleasantly bitter. But if treated right, eggplant really are delicious – tender, creamy, and oh so versatile in their uses. Maybe you knew this already, but the key is how you handle them before cooking.

Or at least that is what finally converted me to the purple side. I started with a technique from Mark Bittman‘s How to Cook Everything, dry-pan roasting two medium eggplant until their skin was charred and blistered and their meat was soft and smoky, and then turned them into delectable fritters. That was good, if a bit time consuming. I recommend you try it.

Next, I read what Nigel Slater had to say about eggplant in his lovely book Tender. One of the prep methods he writes about (and I’m sure he’s not the only one who has detailed this) is cutting your eggplant into small pieces, such as a large or small dice, maybe a bit on the chunkier side, and then generously salting the pieces and letting them sit in a colander in your sink for 30 to 40 minutes. This ensures the eggplant won’t be bitter, and helps it brown more nicely in the pan. Try to give it at least 30 minutes, though even 15 will help, then rinse the salt off and dry the pieces with a tea towel or paper towels. The drier you can get the eggplant, the better.

Yes, the whole salting/draining process takes a bit of extra time and requires a bit more preparation before you swing into cooking, but the reward that awaits you is a new-found appreciation of eggplant’s best qualities (in my case, at least). And then you can showcase the lovely aubergine in something fast, versatile, and delicious, like this:

Simple Eggplant Tomato Sauce

  • 3 small eggplant, cut into small pieces (either a large dice or a small dice works well), salted and drained for 30 – 40 minutes, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 large roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced fine
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • bit of parsley (optional), chopped

Optional spices: cumin seeds, coriander (powder), oregano (dried)

Start some olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the prepped eggplant cubes. Try to refrain from stirring for a few minutes so they can brown. Let them soften and brown in the pan for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If using optional spices, add these about halfway through and stir them in. Once the eggplant look a bit shriveled, and are taking on a nice golden hue, add the chopped tomatoes (including seeds and juice), diced jalapeno, and the garlic. Stir gently and turn down the heat a bit to medium. Towards the end, add the parsley and turn the heat to low. Cover the pan and let everything simmer another five minutes or so. Salt to taste. Serve over whole wheat orzo pasta, rice, or perhaps couscous. Or let it cook down a bit more, uncovered, and serve it with naan or French country bread.

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