Finally, peace with eggplants…

Well, it finally happened. I’ve given up my dislike of eggplant. I’m unsure why I had a long abiding fear of the vegetable. I guess there are a few obvious reasons. First, the name. Those two words do not belong together. Second is the rather alien appearance of the vegetable. Finally, I think I’ve had a lot of poorly prepared, soggy eggplant. I also have to admit a complete lack of knowledge on types of eggplant and preparation for each. A little trip around the internet suggests that there are large eggplants (European/American) and small, slender eggplants (Chinese/Japanese). Apparently there are also very tiny ones (‘Vengan’) popular in India. The large eggplant that we are familiar with comes in purple, white (‘Dourga’), green and pretty striped varieties. Some varieties have a noted bitterness, requiring a technique called ‘degorging.’ This involves slicing, salting, then rinsing the eggplant. This will reduce the ability of the eggplant to absorb oils and sauces to some degree.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when RoRo brought over a Japanese eggplant from her uncles garden, which I preceded to lightly bread and fry in peanut oil, as I would a green tomato. It turned out great. Then, on a trip to Michigan, I went to my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant (yeah, people have been shot in the kitchen, but the food is great) and tried Eggplant Florentine, which knocked my socks off. I’m going to try and recreate that one soon. This past week I had a cookout and did a Mediterranean take on grilled eggplant, which I thought turned out quite well. The secret to all of these is to cook the eggplant hot enough that the outside gets crispy right as the inside turned mushy and soft. It’ll take you a few tries, but its one of those things thats worth getting a feel for.

Grilled Mediterranean Eggplant, Peppers and Onion

1 large eggplant (not Japanese/Chinese eggplant)
2 bell peppers
1 large sweet onion
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh greek oregano
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup olive oil
juice 1 lime
Cavender’s Greek seasoning
Coarse sea salt

Puree herbs, oil and juice of 1/2 a lime in blender, food processor or a large bowl using an immersion blender. I prefer immersion blenders, but I think that’s because cleanup is easier (as long as you don’t spray your kitchen walls with herb puree). Slice eggplant into 1/3 inch discs, brush with 1/2 of the herb puree, sprinkle lightly with seasoning and salt. Cut bell peppers and onion, put on skewers and squeeze juice of half a lime on them. Grill eggplant brushed side down for 7-10 minutes until crisp on outside. While waiting, brush, season and salt the upper side of the eggplant. Place skewers on grill. Flip eggplant and grill for a similar amount of time on the other side. When everything has nice grill marks, but isn’t unpleasantly charred, serve with saganaki and warm pita bread. If you flame the saganaki right, you will get the attention of all your guests. Performance is important. Which is why I’m still wishing I went to that ninja restaurant.

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