I have cooked eggplant only once before. There’s a couple of eggplant salad recipes in The Vegetarian Table: North Africa that i’ve been meaning to try, but frankly, the eggplant hasn’t made its way into our kitchen. And i honestly can’t think why not, because my mom makes an eggplant gratin from Provence which is most excellent. The last time i cooked eggplant was 9 years ago while i was in Paris for three months; i was having friends come around for my birthday dinner, and my mom and i spent the whole day making Provençal food, her eggplant gratin included.
So why have i never cooked with eggplant since? It’s not so ugly, or unappealing, is it? is it because of the Fear of the Great Bitter? These questions were passing through my pea brain while i was standing in the eggplant aisle at the Super H last weekend (i do blog about the Super H a lot, but that’s where Mrs. B and i do most of our produce shopping these days). Yes, the Super H has a whole aisle devoted to eggplant from all around the world. The big hefties we see in our regular American grocery stores, as well as all kinds of indian and asian varieties; from the teeny tiny rounded ones to the long and lean. So without really thinking too much further about it, i grabbed two chinese eggplants, which are long and thin, with a bright almost fluorescent purple color near the tips.
So what the heck was I going to with it? the first thing that popped into my mind was a grilled vegetable sandwich.
on Sunday, while making lunch food for the week, i attacked my purple prey. I cut the top off, sliced it thinly, then cut each slice in half width-wise. Then i made a quick vinaigrette with balsamic and red wine vinegars, olive oil, lots of chopped garlic, salt, and pepper. This went into a tupperware container, where i laid the eggplant slices, then put the lid on and forgot about for a few minutes.
Since i’ve never really cooked with eggplant before, i wasnt sure how long to marinate the slices. I figured eggplant might be like mushrooms; mushrooms soak up all liquid around them like a sponge, so i thought, Maybe the eggplant will too, no? I shook the tupperware around for a bit, making sure that all of the slices would get equal vinaigrette love. And then i hauled out the grill pan, let that warm up with some olive oil, and proceeded to grill the slices.
These took about 5 minutes per side, but i’d definitely hang out near by and not walk away because grill pans vary. I also have a two-burner grill pan which gets rocket hot in seconds; if i’d used that, i’d probably not turn the heat all the way up under it and wouldn’t grill the slices for that long.
I let the cooked slices cool on a plate and drizzled more of the vinaigrette over them.
These turned out to be really good. I could have just eaten a whole plate of them as is, as a garlicky eggplant salad. What i ended up doing with them was making a couple of sandwiches. I had some leftover whole wheat from the Great Harvest Bread Company which needed to be used up, so Sandwich #1 was eggplant and avocado. I meant to put some roasted red peppers in that sandwich too, and had a jar of them in my pantry; but the morning i was assembling this before work, i couldn’t get the damn jar to open. It turned out really well anyway. Sandwich #2 was pesto, eggplant, and lettuce. I have a whole container of what’s labeled as “Taiwan Basil” (from, you guessed it, the Super H), so i put about 2 cups of these leaves in the food processor with some grated parmesan, a couple of cloves of garlic, some olive oil, and some of the jarred roasted red peppers which i couldn't open earlier. This turned into pesto (kind of, since i don’t have any pine nuts), although it was more pungent and spikier in flavor due to the different type of basil. I spread two slices of bread with this, then layered on the eggplant and some lettuce leaves. Actually, i assembled all this at work because i was afraid that it would be all soggy if i made it ahead of time.
I later had to apologize to a couple of people who came by my cube for a quick chat because i’m sure i was breathing garlic all over them.
I shall be making this again.
(top eggplant photo courtesy of stock.xchng)