If you asked 20-year-old me to predict how many ways middle-aged me would make eggplant, the answer would have been a big fat zero. Even though I was a kid who ordered the most offbeat thing on a menu, I drew the line when it came to eggplant. Someplace along the way eggplant earned my grudging acceptance, and eventually my respect. If the eggplant in question is Japanese (long, light purple and thin) or Thai (round, Ping-Pong ball-size and green) it's now on my culinary A-list. Done right, even the more common dark purple eggplant is welcome at my table anytime.
Many eggplant recipes start by sprinkling sliced or diced eggplant with salt, letting it sit, and then rinsing. A generation ago this process was necessary to avoid a bitter flavor. Today most commercially grown eggplant doesn't need this treatment. The only time I salt is when I want to pull excess moisture from the eggplant so that, after being rinsed and patted dry, breading adheres better. But, when I'm cooking for just me I'm way to lazy to batter and fry anything . . . that's why we have restaurants. When I cook for me I want flavor, but I also want simplicity.
Roasting is one of the easiest ways to cook eggplant. With Japanese eggplant I cut it lengthwise into thin slices, brush both sides with a little olive oil and season the top with salt and pepper. In 20 minutes, give or take, I've got crisp edges, soft centers, and lots of roasty-brown flavor. Thai eggplant is so small I roast and eat them whole. They end up looking like giant juicy raisins. Hold the little globe them by the stem and in one quick motion bite and slurp the whole mini eggplant into your mouth. A sprinkle of salt just before eating won't hurt.
My favorite way to eat babaganoush, a classic eggplant dish, is while it's still warm. Roast an eggplant, scoop the cooked-til-creamy-and-brown flesh out of the skin and season with garlic, tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice, salt and pepper. If you've looked for an excuse to splurge on some sort of smoked salt babaganoush is the dish for you. Spread on pita (or warm tortillas or chips) it's comfort on a cracker.
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In case you're wondering about the name ... The first eggplant discovered by Europeans were small, oval, and white. They looked like eggs, and thus the name.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.