Being a nightshade and having a spongy texture, eggplant gets a bad rap. Yet, in the heart of summer, it’s one of the freshest, most versatile vegetables you can get your hands on. It’s not bitter when it’s in season, and contrary to common belief, it can be used in everything from soups to sweets. Give eggplant a chance, and I can promise you won’t turn your nose up at it again.
Roast and puree
Typically, when you think roasted eggplant, the first application that comes to mind is baba ghanoush. This Middle Eastern dip is delicious, no doubt, but pureed eggplant flesh can be used in so many other applications. For starters, you can adjust the consistency with chicken or vegetable stock, add white beans for further creaminess, and blend the works into a light, healthy soup. Alternatively, use eggplant puree as the base for a vegetarian pasta sauce of sorts, with a variety of wild mushrooms to add meatiness. Or, if you really want to get creative, try using eggplant puree in your baking. Just like applesauce, mashed bananas, carrots, or zucchini, it can lend moisture to muffin or cake recipes while allowing you to reduce the fat content. Plus, eggplant is mild enough in flavour that you can barely tell it’s there.
When all else fails, turning vegetables into crispy, salty chips never hurts. It couldn’t be easier to accomplish either. There’s no frying required. All you need is a baking sheet, an oven, some salt, and of course, eggplant. Using a mandolin, slice the eggplant thinly lengthwise or into rounds. Lay it on a parchment or silicon liner on a baking sheet, sprinkle liberally with salt, and bake. Depending on the flavour you are going for, you can bake it for a shorter period of time in a hotter oven (say 350 F) and achieve roasty golden brown-ness, or settle for a longer period of time in a cooler oven (about 200-250 F) and essentially dehydrate the eggplant until there is no longer any moisture left in it. Either way, I challenge you to not eat them all straight off the baking sheet.
You can pickle pretty much anything, but you rarely see pickled eggplant. More commonly, they are made into Italian marinated eggplant, which has more oil than it does vinegar. The key when pickling eggplant is to cook it first. You don’t want to turn it to mush, but raw eggplant isn’t the most palatable, so cooking is an important step (simply roast bite-sized pieces of it until they start to soften but still hold their shape). Then you can toss it into the brine of your choice. Let it sit in the fridge for at least a few hours, and then use it in a big bowl of salad, an antipasto platter, or just munch as is!
Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or a meat-eater to the core, stuffed eggplant makes for a hearty, comforting summer meal. It couldn’t be simpler to prepare either. Start by halving the eggplant lengthwise and roasting it. Just like making twice-baked potatoes or sweet potatoes, you want to hollow out some of the flesh to save room for all of the other ingredients you’re going to add back in. Keep it vegetarian by mixing up a mélange of chickpeas, zucchini, tomatoes, corn, and other seasonal vegetables, or go carnivore by filling it with sautéed ground beef, pork, poultry, or lamb. Regardless, be sure to reserve some of the eggplant puree to blend with tahini, lime, and plenty of cracked black pepper. It makes for a tasty sauce drizzled atop the baked, stuffed eggplant once you pull them from the oven.
Vegetables don’t have to be “healthy” all of the time. It’s no surprise that one of the easiest ways to learn to love eggplant is to coat it in batter and fry it. Tempura eggplant? Mm-hmm. Cornmeal-crusted eggplant? Why not?! Beer batter eggplant? Now we’re taking! Heck if you’re hesitant to fry you can even deploy the standard flour-eggs-panko breading and bake the eggplant on a wire rack in a hot oven for that faux fried effect. Just make sure you’re liberal with your seasonings. Given that eggplant has such a high moisture content, it begs for salt. A zippy dipping sauce to go alongside isn’t a bad idea either.