plump purple eggplant in bin by SC, 2008

I’m sharing my two favorite ways to cook eggplant. They’re both easy and interesting, and are a good way to make eggplant delicious.

The first is simply to slice an eggplant lengthwise – from stem to bottom – into 1/2 inch slices. Salt and oil the slices well on both sides, and spread on a baking sheet, place on an oven rack near the heating element, and roast on the BROIL setting until one side is golden brown. This only takes a few minutes! Then flip each slice with a fork and broil on the other side. You know they’re done when a fork pierces the flesh like a chainsaw through butter. Under-cooked eggplant is like eating a wet sock, so aim for a golden, almost crisp outside and a creamy inside. Plenty of oil makes them delicious and brown well.

Now take them out, let them cool enough to handle, then chop into chunks (leaving the skin on) and throw into pasta sauce, onto pizza or sandwiches, or with dressing for a salad.

Okay, now for the impressive but easy eggplant dish in the style of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean mothers and grandmothers. This is essentially what’s known in Arabic as baba ganoush, the famous smoked eggplant spread for pita.

Do you have access to an open flame, either a gas stove, a grill, or an open fire? Great. If not, I have directions for using an oven, though it won’t have the smoky taste.

Smoky Eggplant Spread (baba ganoush)

Ingredients

  • 1 large or several small eggplants, any variety, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds total
  • the juice and grated rind of half a lemon, or lime if that’s on hand
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large clove of garlic, smashed or grated
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, or more
  • Small bunch of chopped parsley or cilantro
  • Freshly ground pepper, dash of cayenne, or chopped fresh smokey-eggplant-spread-croppedhot pepper (OPTIONAL)
  • Spoonful of sesame tahini (OPTIONAL)

Directions

Open flame method
1. Place whole raw eggplant(s) onto a grill or DIRECTLY over the low flame of your gas stove.
2. Let the skin closest to the flame char, then slowly rotate the eggplant with a pair of tongs until the whole thing is blackened and very soft. DON’T LEAVE IT UNATTENDED!
3. Make sure you get the eggplant ends and all sides blackened and soft. Juices may drip out, and that’s okay – just wipe up the stove afterwards.
4. Transfer the eggplant (now floppy and burnt) to a cutting board to cool.
5. When it’s cool enough to handle, chop off the stem and peel away the charred skin with your fingers or a butter knife. Leaving a few flecks of blackened skin is fine – it’s hard to get it all off!
6. Finely chop the flesh and transfer it to a large bowl.

Oven method
1. Heat oven to 400° F.
2. Using a fork, prick the eggplant all over.
3.Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast until very tender, 50 to 60 minutes.
4. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, halve it lengthwise and scrape out the flesh, discarding the skin. Finely chop the flesh and transfer it to a large bowl.

Add to the cooked eggplant
To the finely chopped cooked eggplant flesh, add the remaining ingredients. Mix everything together and serve on top of warm pita bread or on crackers.

No, it’s not very pretty, but it’s delicious.

How to choose eggplants

Choose eggplants that are firm, glossy, and smooth. Once they sit around and start getting soft, dull, and spotty, they don’t seem to cook as well.

The round pale purples ones (“Beatrice” variety), the small stripey ones (“graffiti” variety),  the long slender Japanese ones and the hard to find tiny “Fairy Tale” variety are my favorites to cook and eat. But any and all are good, as long as they’re fresh!

– Bethany Fleishman

Photos: by Molly Drummond and Vital Communities staff