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Eggplant around the world. October 21, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Last weekend, my friend Dolores asked if I had any good recipes that used eggplant. Do I ever! And since I was rounding up five of my favorites for her, I thought I’d share them with all of you, too.

If you’ve been avoiding eggplant because your memory of it was bitter, seedy, and spongy, I urge you to give it another try. With so many eggplant varieties on the market, it’s easy to make delicious eggplant dishes without the endless salting, pressing, oozing, and rinsing that characterized eggplant preparation in the past. I still encounter tough, bitter, off-flavored eggplants in restaurants now and then, but have never had one turn out like that at home.

Let’s begin with that classic French dish, ratatouille. Ratatouille is a sort of vegetable stew, sauce, or salsa that uses eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, onion, and garlic in a very savory, delicious way. It’s yummy hot, as a topping for pasta (add a little grated or shredded Parmesan in this case) or an accompaniment for rice. It’s delicious served at room temperature as a sort of tapenade with slices of crusty baguette. And it’s good cold as a salsa with tortilla chips.

The ratatouille I made was perhaps less chunky than a typical version. But I wasn’t looking for chunks, just a yummy topping for rice. Here’s what I did:

              Ratatouille a la Silence

3 small or 1 standard eggplant, roughly chopped (I prefer an assortment of long, thin oriental types)

2 small zucchini, sliced, then diced

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, Walla Walla, Candy, or 1015 type), diced

6 cloves of garlic, roasted and minced

1 large bunch fresh basil, chopped 

extra-virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

thyme, oregano, crushed red pepper, and rosemary to taste

Saute the minced roasted garlic, onion, tomatoes, and eggplant in the olive oil with the basil, herbs and spices. Add the zucchini. When everything has completely cooked down, add the balsamic vinegar. Serve and enjoy!

Ready for something completely different? How about that yummy Middle Eastern classic eggplant spread, baba ghannouj?

Baba ghannouj is sublime—far better than hummus, in my view—when there’s a smoky flavor to the eggplant, as though it’s been charred over the coals while it roasted. But, lacking that smoky flavor, what you end up with is a bland, oily, somewhat bitter dip that makes you wonder why on earth you bothered. And that’s a real shame.

I’ve always wanted to make my own baba ghannouj, so I could make sure it had that luscious smoky flavor. Not being prepared to char my eggplant over an open flame, I bought a bottle of Wright’s All Natural Hickory Seasoning Liquid Smoke and three eggplants. Time to get serious!

                 Silence’s Smokin’ Baba Ghannouj

First, I cut the tops and bottoms off the eggplants, split them down the center, and stabbed the skin of the tops numerous times to allow steam to escape. I rubbed the tops and bottoms with olive oil and laid them cut-side-down on aluminum-foil-lined baking trays, then baked them at 350 degrees F. for about an hour, until they were fork-tender. Then I turned off the heat and let the eggplant halves cool until they were easy to touch.

Next, I rubbed the skins off the eggplant halves. This was horrifying to me, since I’m texture-sensitive and touching the oily skins made my own skin crawl. I swore I’d never make baba ghannouj again, until my friend Susan suggested roasting the eggplants after skinning them. Oh. I could peel them, wrap them in aluminum foil, and cook them until they were tender. No slimy skins to work off. Thanks, Susan!

The next step was mashing the cooked, skinned eggplant with a fork, then adding tahini, ground cumin, Trocomare or RealSalt, lemon pepper, lemon juice, and plenty of minced crushed garlic, along with a generous dollop of liquid smoke. Mash, stir, mash, taste, adjust seasonings… aaaahhhh!!! Serve with hot multigrain pita or garlic naan wedges and raw veggies for dipping (we like broccoli and cauliflower florets, red, yellow and orange bell pepper strips, celery sticks, radish slices, grape tomatoes, and Romaine or other firm lettuce leaves). The best baba ghannouj!

Note: For a smoother texture, spoon the cooled baba ghannouj in a blender or food processor and process to your preferred degree of smoothness.

As we continue our world tour of eggplant cuisine, let’s stop in Italy, not for that classic Italian-American favorite, eggplant parm, but for its less calorific cousin, eggplant rollatini.

Do you know rollatini? It’s like the absolute ultimate eggplant parm, without the breading and deep frying. Each thin, delicious slice of eggplant is wrapped around a ricotta filling (thus the name “rollatini”) before the sauce and cheese are added. Yum! If I’m in a restaurant that offers this dish, I’m in heaven. Just give me a big, fresh salad and some garlic knots to eat with it and leave me in peace.

Rollatini is one of the dishes I’ve never tried to make at home, though—it just looks too complicated. So I was thrilled when my friend Denise said that she makes a version that you don’t have to roll up. You still get every bit of the goodness without nearly as much work. I persuaded her to share the recipe with all of us, so without more ado, here’s Denise’s UnRollatini:

                    Denise’s UnRollatini

To make this dish, you’ll need 2 large or 3 medium eggplants, garlic breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup milk, 3 eggs, olive oil, large container of ricotta cheese, jar tomato sauce or two pint jars of homemade sauce or equivalent fresh-made, fresh mozzarella, garlic salt, garlic powder, onion salt, onion powder, and a small bunch fresh parsley or to taste. [Note from Silence: If you want to make your own from-scratch sauce, see my earlier post, "What to do with all those ripe tomatoes, part three," via the search bar at upper right.]

Beat one of the eggs and milk together. Slice the eggplants into rounds about 1/2 inch thick. Dip the eggplant slices into the egg/milk mixture, then into the breadcrumbs so both sides are coated. Fry the eggplant slices in hot olive oil, then set them on paper towels to drain.

Mince the parsley. Mix the remaining eggs and seasonings, including parsley, into the ricotta cheese, using as much of the garlic and onion seasonings as you like.

In a baking dish, layer the sauce, eggplant slices, ricotta mix, mozzarella, and sauce, and repeat, continuing to add layers until all ingredients are used. Make sure the final layers are sauce and (on top) mozzarella. Put the dish in a 350-degree oven and bake for about half an hour, until it starts to bubble and the cheese is melted.

Eat and enjoy, or as Denise says, “Mangia!”

Now let’s head for China, or at least Chinatown. One of my favorite Chinese dishes is eggplant in garlic sauce. Mind you, I have no clue if this really is an authentic Chinese dish or is yet another example of Chinese-American cuisine, but whatever it is, it’s delicious. Certainly my version isn’t authentic to either cuisine, but it’s easy and so good!

                 General Tso’s Eggplant

I make this Chinese-inspired eggplant dish with thin-sliced oriental-style eggplants sauteed in olive oil with plenty of diced sweet onion, chopped green onion (scallions), minced garlic, minced fresh ginger, salt, a dash of hot sauce, and enough General Tso’s Sauce to coat the slices, then serve it over steamed rice. This dish is decadent and good, and it’s so fast and easy it’s hardly what you’d even call cooking.

Let’s end our world tour of eggplant with a delicious recipe from my Pakistani friend Huma. It’s a good, simple eggplant dish that can be made in advance and reheated just before serving.

          Huma’s Easy Eggplant

Heat oil in a heavy frying pan. When hot, add minced garlic (Huma uses an entire bulb, but suit your own tastes—that’s a lot of cloves!) and saute, without burning, until the garlic is evenly browned. Slice slender Asian eggplants into 1/4-inch rounds (basically the thickness of sliced cucumbers) and add them to the oil and garlic, putting in just one layer covering the bottom of the pan. Cook until the eggplant is golden on one side, then flip and cook until the other side is golden. If you’re cooking more eggplant slices, remove the browned eggplant with a spatula and set on a paper towel on a plate. Add a bit more oil to the pan, then put in the next layer of slices. When they’re done, return the original slices to the pan, add a minced fresh green chile pepper, ground cayenne pepper, ground turmeric, salt, and black pepper to taste, stirring to coat the eggplant. Now, add water, not to cover all the eggplant slices but to come up the sides of the top slices. Turn the heat on low and cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid.

While the eggplant is cooking, mince two or three more green chiles finely and put them in a small bowl so chile fans can add as much heat to the dish as they like. After about ten minutes, uncover the eggplant and mash them a bit with a wooden spoon or potato masher. You don’t want to turn them into a paste, just to release some of the liquid and, as Huma says, the fragrance of the cooking spices. Continue cooking until the eggplant is thoroughly soft and the water has been absorbed into a spice paste. Serve with rice, plain yogurt, and the bowl of green chiles.

There! A world of yummy eggplant dishes at your fingertips! I hope you (and Dolores) enjoy them as much as we do. And please, if you have your own favorites, share them here with us!

               ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

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Comments»

1. h.ibrahim - October 21, 2011

As I am agonizing about how to pay tuition for my kids i am wondering how wonderful if I can get general tsao’s sauce here since that egg plant dish (one you have never made for me) sounds wonderful.

Gack, the horrors of tuition! You can order General Tso’s sauce through Amazon. They have several brands; the one I use is the Iron Chef brand. Check it out!

2. Alena Columbus - October 25, 2011

Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is important and everything. But think about if you added some great pictures or video clips to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and videos, this blog could definitely be one of the very best in its niche. Excellent blog!

Hi Alena! Thanks for your kind words. And you’re right, there’s an excellent reason why pretty much everybody else includes photos, video clips, music, and the like on their blogs: people enjoy seeing them! Plus, as you say, they help posts “pop.” We live in such a visual world, it’s hard for people to get through an uninterrupted expanse of text, especially a long one like this one. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time or the talent to add visuals of any kind to liven up our text. Our talent is writing, so we challenge ourselves to paint compelling pictures through our words. We want people to see what we’re discussing in their minds, like they do when reading novels. Let us know how well we’re doing!


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