Like the tomato, to which it is botanically related, eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a fruit, not a vegetable, although we consider and cook it like the latter.
Unlike the tomato, however, a food that generally adds flavor to other cooked foods, eggplant is wonderful in the way it takes on flavor. It is one of the great canvases in the kitchen. It has a mild flavor and was built by nature to be little more than a sponge. It’s set up to do its job from the start.
All over the world, eggplant is roasted, grilled, baked, braised, pan-fried, fried, smoked and stewed. The Turks boast of having 40 ways of cooking eggplant; it is omnipresent in the cuisine of the Near and Middle East. There is no ratatouille without eggplant, no Sicilian caponata, no baba ghanoush.
the Greeks make moussaka from it; Italians are famous for their melanzane parmigiana, which we Americans of all origins have eagerly embraced.
You can easily see how it gets its name from the eggplant commonly available in our grocery stores: it’s a large purple-black “egg” with a green cap on it. (If you ever come across a white eggplant, you will clearly see its ovoid character.) Smaller versions of the same are called Italian eggplants; they look like purple-black batons.
Chinese and Japanese eggplants are much more elongated than these two but similar in color, with Chinese eggplants sometimes approaching the hue of lavender. Thai eggplants are small and green striped; Indian, still small, striped and reddish-purple. Eggplants from the Philippines are medium in length and greenish purple. There are other eggplants, with other colors and shapes, from elsewhere.
All cook in much the same way, although each has its special place; Thai eggplant, for example, being one of the few that is easily eaten raw.
Their common problem in the kitchen is how their innate nature absorbs its cooking medium, most often oil, resulting in a greasy and often greasy taste in food.
You will often read, in a given recipe, “sprinkle salt on the eggplant pieces and let them drain in a colander in the sink”. The reason given – “to remove bitterness” – is only a small part of the truth. (Much more bitterness turns into a kind of sweetness, the caramelization of the Maillard reaction, by the application of heat later in the recipe.)
The important thing that you do in the salting step is to remove the generous moisture from the eggplant and start to weaken and collapse the cell walls of the sponge-shaped construction of the eggplant. Additional moisture removal (for example, by roasting the eggplant over high heat or microwaving slices or cubes between paper napkins) allows even greater development of caramelization later in the cooking. recipe. Without this, the “steamed” eggplant has no chance of coloring well.
Few “brown” foods taste – or feel, with their chewy texture – as delicious as a piece of well-tanned eggplant.
The recipe here is a classic Indian treatment of eggplant, the fruit (OK, “vegetable”) taking on the many flavors and savory notes that mark the Indian pantry.
Mashed eggplant with curry (Baigan Bharta)
Adapted from “Indian for Everyone” by Anupy Singla (Surrey Books, 2014). For the listed garlic and ginger, you can substitute 6 heaping tablespoons of ginger and garlic paste, readily available in Indian and Asian grocery stores. Makes 5 cups.
- 1 large purple-black American eggplant in the shape of a globe
- 2 purple Asian eggplants, each 10 to 12 inches long
- 1 large yellow onion, unpeeled to start
- 2 tablespoons of neutral vegetable oil or ghee
- 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
- 1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
- 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced (whole peeled canned OK)
- 2 medium Pueblo peppers, charred, peeled, veined and seeded, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
- 1 tablespoon of salt
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Prick the eggplants in several places with sharp pork teeth or a knife tip (to allow the steam to escape and prevent it from bursting). Place the eggplant and whole onion on the baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes, or until the larger eggplant begins to “deflate” noticeably.
Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle, 15-20 minutes. Cut the eggplants in half and remove the flesh from the skin with a spatula or wooden spoon. Roughly chop the flesh of the eggplants and set aside. Peel the onion and dice it.
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the oil or ghee and cook the cumin seeds for 40 seconds, until they sizzle and become aromatic. Add the cilantro and turmeric while stirring and heat for 30 seconds. Add the diced onions, stir well, cover the pan, lower the heat a little and cook the onions for 10-15 minutes, until they soften even more and begin to brown.
Uncover the pot, increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the grated garlic and ginger (or 6 heaped tablespoons of ginger-garlic paste) and cook for 2 minutes, mixing well. Add the tomatoes and chopped peppers, toss to combine and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan so that nothing sticks.
Add the reserved eggplant flesh, red pepper powder and salt, mix well and cook, stirring, 5 to 6 minutes, again so that nothing sticks.
Remove the pan from the heat and let cool a little. Using a potato masher, mash the eggplant mixture well, keeping a few pieces in a texture to your liking.
Serve hot or at room temperature with reheated or grilled naans.
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