Eggplant in Oz, in other places aubergine or maybe brinjal. A versatile vege that many people have no idea what to do with and that others get wrong all the time.
It’s a (usually) big fleshy fruit that is mainly water and cellulose. The water part seems to confuse people. Nearly every recipe tells you to slice and salt the fruit and leave it to stand in order to draw out the water. But why?
There are many other veges that have a high water content but we are not told to de-water them. My opinion is that this is a leftover from previous times that is no longer important. Make no mistake if you do this process all the salt does not drain away, the flesh will be left fairly salty. I think in days past eggplant cultivars were more bitter than they are today and the purpose of salting was to remove the bitterness. I have grown several cultivars in addition to the big purple-black kind usually found in the supermarket and never found the need to salt them.
The eggplant family the Solanums or nightshades (tomatoes, capsicums, chillies, potatoes) are often strongly flavoured. The flavour is an evolutionary development to repel attack by predators. There is still some bitterness in modern eggplants - it is in the seeds. Like passionfruit there are thousands of them and eating them is unavoidable. The solution is to close your eyes and forget they are there and you won’t notice. There is an exception to this, see later.
Another issue with eggplant is that they are oil magnets. The spongy texture seems to be designed to suck up vast amounts of cooking oil. This may be what you want, imam bayildi done the traditional way uses the eggplant as substrate for oil. We may not want to eat large amounts of oil but there are ways around the problem without compromising flavour. Some say the salting reduces the amount of oil they absorb - it doesn’t.
A third preparation question is peeling. Some think that you get extra brownie points for leaving the peel on. It is just edible but to me unattractive and may separate in cooking leaving black strips in your dish. I peel but YMMV.
Enough theory here are some yummy practical ways to eat eggplant.
Choosing fresh eggplant. Select fruit that are firm and shiny, avoid blemishes. If the skin is wrinkled or soft they are old. Very fresh fruit will ‘ring’, that is if flicked you will hear/feel the vibration go through it. The same freshness test applies to the cousin capsicum. If you want to experience this grow your own. Eggplants love heat, dry air, rich soil, full sun and being watered, netted and staked. This year with La Nina summer my eggplants are rubbish.
Peel and slice crossways about 7-8 mm thick. Flour, egg and breadcrumb the slices. The coating will not stick to peel. Season the flour with salt and pepper, and spices like garam masala if you like. Shallow fry in your favourite oil, I use olive. The coating limits the amount of oil absorbed. When brown on both sides drain on kitchen paper, and serve while hot with lemon quarters. The soft inside and crunchy outside is very appealing and the lemon cuts the oil, people who don’t like eggplant including children may change their minds over this.
Baba ganouche is a traditional eggplant dip from the eastern Mediterranean. Slice the fruit in halves longways (unless small) and bake on a slide in a hot oven for some 40-50 minutes, turn halfway. They are done when the skin starts to crisp and collapse, the insides should be soft and translucent. Cool and scrape the pulp out of the skin with a spoon. Mash the pulp with a fork (if you use a food processor it will break the seeds and make it bitter). Add about one sixth the volume of tahini (or to taste) and season with crushed garlic, lemon juice and salt. If you want precise quantities there are 1000 recipes. The smokiness is very attractive with fresh bread and nibbles.
This is dead easy and very quick. Peel and cut into largish chunks. Nuke until soft. Serve with a little oyster sauce. Oyster sauce is full of salt and umami and complements the bland vege.
There are a million recipes, most involve tomatoes, oil or butter, cheese, breadcrumbs etc. A basic and foolproof way to prepare eggplant that can be as simple or fancy as you like.