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Cooking eggplant to tender, silky perfection
May 10, 2017, 4:38 pm
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Think eggplant has to be stringy, bitter, greasy, or bland? Chances are you have just never eaten it when it is cooked right. The pale meat of this botanical-fruit-turned-culinary-vegetable is certainly mild in flavor, and its spongy texture means it is prone to soaking up an excess of oil. But all it takes to make eggplant appealing is a little know-how, whether you are grilling it, roasting, sautéing, or blending into smooth dips. Read on to know how to cook eggplant to tender, silky perfection.

Peeling: Because globe eggplant and other large varieties usually have tough skins, peeling it is a good idea, especially if you are serving it in chunks or slices. If you do not like the idea of removing the skin entirely, you can always partially peel it in striped fashion. When you grill-roast the eggplant and then separate the flesh from the peel, keep the skin on during cooking to keep the eggplant intact.

Salting: Globe eggplant works deliciously in just about any eggplant dish, provided you salt it first. Salting, also known as purging, accomplishes two goals: it pulls out juices that carry bitter flavors, and it collapses the air pockets in the eggplant's sponge-like flesh, thus preventing it from absorbing too much oil and getting greasy.

To salt your eggplant, peel it and then slice, cube, or quarter depending on the recipe. Sprinkle the pieces generously with salt and let them sit in a colander for an hour. Rinse in plenty of water to remove the salt, firmly squeeze a few pieces at a time in the palm of your hand to draw out almost all the moisture, and then pat dry with paper towels. Thorough drying is important; squeezing out excess moisture will give you a less greasy result.

Avoid under-cooking: Eggplant must be completely cooked through until it is meltingly soft, smooth, and creamy. This way it will be flavorful on its own as well as receptive to the other flavors with which you will blend it.

Grilling: To grill, first salt and thoroughly dry the eggplant. Then brush the slices with oil and grill over a medium-hot fire until soft and cooked through. Grill-roasting can get messy, so if you are trying this over an indoor gas flame, line the burner trays with foil or try broiling the pierced eggplant instead. Peel off the blackened skin, drain the flesh in a colander, and squeeze out all the moisture

Oven-Roasting: As an alternative to grill-roasting, pierce the eggplant in several places and roast it whole and unpeeled on a baking sheet at 177 degrees Celsius until it is quite soft and starting to collapse (almost an hour). Peel and drain it as you would for grill-roast.

Fry and Stir-fry: These cooking methods seem to throw people the most because of how much grease eggplant can soak up. If you are using globe eggplant, salt it and squeeze dry; other varieties do not need salting. Be sure the oil is very hot and add the slices in the pan in one layer (if you crowd the pan, the eggplant will steam instead of fry and will not cook evenly). Turn often and adjust the heat to avoid burning until the slices are a rich brown color (about one to two minutes). Drain on paper towels.

Quick-cooking Japanese and Chinese eggplant are the best candidates for stir-frying. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. When the oil is very hot, toss the cubes into the pan with a little salt and stir-fry until the eggplant is a rich brown color.

Recipe:

Eggplant with Fragrant Spices and Herbs

Ingredients

2 medium globe eggplant

2 tsp. ground coriander

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. cayenne, or to taste

Salt to taste

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 large onions, chopped

2 tsp. minced garlic

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 small fresh green chili

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Fresh lemon juice

Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

 

Preparation:

Light a grill fire and grill the eggplants, turning frequently, until the skins are black and parched and the flesh feels soft when pierced with a fork. (Alternatively, prick the eggplant in several places and roast on a foil-lined baking sheet in a 177 degrees Celsius oven until soft, turning two or three times.)

When the eggplants are cool enough to handle, peel the charred skin and place them in a colander to drain. Squeeze gently to get rid of the extra moisture, chop the pulp and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and a little salt.

Heat oil in a skillet and fry the onion over medium-high heat until golden brown. Add the garlic, ginger, fresh chili and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant. Add the spice mixture and stir for another few seconds. Then, add the tomatoes and cook over medium heat until soft. Stir in the eggplant pulp and the chopped cilantro. Cook, stirring often, until all the liquid in the pan evaporates and the oil begins to separate and forms a glaze over the mixture (20 minutes). Taste and add salt as required. Serve in a bowl sprinkled with more cilantro leaves.

 

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