The Best Thing You Can Do with Eggplants
As recently as college, I thought eggplants were poisonous. I can’t be the only one. I blame Hudson’s Adventure Island and my parents.
But even after discovering that eggplant wouldn’t drain my energy bars in real life, I still considered it to rank among the world’s worst vegetables. It’s spongy, the skin is thick, and it doesn’t really taste like anything. (And why the f is it called an eggplant?)
But here’s the thing. They’re all over the farmers’ markets, and you can get one the size of your head for a dollar. And there’s an Indian eggplant dish called baingan bharta that I’m in love with.
I’m not going to post a baingan bharta recipe, because that would be stealing. I’ve been using the recipe in Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian (Amazon affiliate link), a fantastic book I got from the library that tons of people recommended to me for my vegan September. I’m going to buy it once the library takes it away from me. (Here’s a link to a different baingan bharta recipe if you want to try it yourself.)
What I am going to post is the first step, the roasting or smoking of the eggplants, because to my knowledge that’s the only known way to make eggplant good. And once you do that, it’s easy to make the best baba ganouj I’ve ever tasted.
How to Roast an Eggplant
Ideally, you should smoke eggplants by burying them in the ashes of a fire. Since most of us don’t regularly have fires with ashes, many make-at-home recipes will have you roast them in the oven instead.
But I found a better way: Smoke them in a gas grill. You don’t even need woodchips; the skins on the eggplant give off their own smoke, and it’s perfect.
Here’s how I do it:
- Crank your grill up as high as it goes. Mine gets up to 600 degrees and that seems totally fine.
- Pierce two large eggplants all over with a fork and put them on the grill (you can do more than this, but maybe just stick to two the first time).
- Close the grill. Use tongs to rotate the eggplants every 10 to 15 minutes, for as little as half an hour and up to a full hour. The longer you leave them on there, the smokier the eggplant will get. You want the middle to be nice and soft but the skins to get charred and crisp.
- Remove the eggplants from the grill and allow them to cool.
- Carefully cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon, leaving the brittle skins behind. (Others will tell you to peel the skins off, but that leaves lots of char behind.)
- Use your smoky eggplant flesh for whatever you want!
Baba Ghannouj Recipe
You can use this soft, smoked eggplant flesh for a lot of things. As I mentioned, baingan barta and baba ghannouj both start out this way, but so do other things. Like this eggplant caviar recipe, for example.
Anyway, here’s how to make baba ghannouj with the eggplant you just smoked. It’s similar to the recipe in World Vegetarian. If you can’t do this, you’re terrible at cooking.
Ready? Put the smoked flesh of two small eggplants in a food processor with 6 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of a lemon, and two teaspoons of salt. Puree until it’s creamy, and then add more lemon and salt to taste. Use as a dip for whole wheat pitas.
Told you it was easy. Try it and thank me later. 🙂
YUM! I LOVE eggplant and that’s a fantastic idea! I’m definitely going to have to try that.
And I swear I just got a blast from the past with that screenshot of Hudson’s Adventure Island! I’m pretty sure I played that as a wee lass!!
I mostly use eggplant when making caponata or ratatouille (I actually have a friend who’s named med ratatouille because I made it so often). I use the draining method described here: http://www.suite101.com/content/caponata-a64398 though I usually don’t let it sit for two whole hours.
I love grilled eggplant! Haven’t tried a Baba ghanoush recipe yet. I’ll give this a shot.
I love roasting vegetables . . . and I’ve never tried making Baba Ghannouj — thanks! It’s definitely something I’d like to add to my culinary experiences. <3
I LOVE eggplant. It’s so good grilled, especially topped with pizza sauce and tofu ricotta.
I used to hate eggplant because of an eggplant incident in the dorms (really, Bridget, you’re going to try eggplant IN THE DORMS?!). However, I just made a “healthy” version of eggplant Parmesan and am a convert. My Italian friend told me to press it like tofu beforehand and it made a huge difference! Funny how tastes can change!
aw! I love eggplant! I like it grilled and tossed in some of HEABs marinutta sauce. Amazing. I’ve never smoked one- I will have to give this a go.
The first few years of our relationship my wife constantly told me how much she hated eggplant. Then I started cooking it for her anyway. Then she spent a few years saying how much she hated eggplant but making me cook it for her anyway. Then we went to Greece and she finally gave up on reminding me how much she hates eggplant despite how often we eat it and she enjoys it and will even cook it herself now.
ahh im liking this recipe 🙂
Love eggplant! I don’t make it too often though. I’ve never seen them charred so much on a grill but I bet it would taste awesome.
Recipe Sicilian Smoked Eggplant
1 Eggplant large about 2lbs
2-4oz tomato paste depending on eggplant size
3-4 cloves garlic chopped fine or mashed
1/4 cup minced onion or shallot
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley (Italian Parsely) or Cilantro or both
1 chicken bouillon cube smashed..I use Knorr brand
1 teaspoon capers
Pinch of Red Pepper flakes
Black Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of finely chopped green olives
Oil to saute in about 1/4 cup. You can use light olive oil or Canola or Safflower/Sunflower, Vegetable or Corn oil. I wouldn’t use EVVO but you can add some after if you like.
Step 1. Smoke the Egplant. Use a grill or stove-top, I use the stove-top, it is easier. Just lay the entire eggplant (do not poke holes into it, it will drip more) on the iron stove grid and put flame on high, turn till each side is blackened. If Eggplant is large after you smoke it over flames and it is still a bit hard, pop it into microwave or in oven till it is soft. Run under cold water and peel off all the blackened skin. Some put it in a paper bag for a while to make skin easier to remove but I think this is easier and faster, it doesn’t wash off flavor. Take the eggplant pulp and cut or mash it up into a bowl, straining excess liquid.
Step 2. Add the beaten eggs to the cooled eggplant pulp and stir in well.
Step 3. Heat oil in pan, I use a thick bottom pan. Heat oil and add the onions and red pepper flakes, stir for a minute till half cooked but do not brown them, add the Tomato paste, garlic, bouillon powder, olives, capers and parsley, black pepper. Stir for a minute to cook paste, it should be oily, do not let it burn or brown.
Step 4. Quickly add the Eggplant Egg mixture to the pan and stir well. Flame on medium, continue stirring for 5-10 minutes till cooked. If it needs salt add it if you like. Done.
Best let to sit and cool then serve it with rice. Arborio is fine as are Basmati, Jasmine, Regular White and Brown Rice. It is also a good topping for Tapas and Bruschetta. Cold or Hot. The smoky taste is addictive, you can leave out egg but it isn’t as good. You can also serve it with crusty bread bruschetta.
Good stuff and pretty healthy too!
Thank-you! I am going to make this as an appetizer for Christmas dinner.
That eggplant is laying on the grill like a pair of sliced buttocks.
I also thought they were creepy because they were the wrong color for a food. They also smell like bananas, and you’re right, pretty much taste like spongy nothing.
I do like baba ghannouj, though. Never occurred to me to try making it.
If it wasn’t for your webpage, I’d still think there were only two things to make with them. hmmm.
You’ll find that the smaller eggplants have the better taste/texture!
This idea of smoking in a fire’s ashes makes me think eggplant will be a must on the next camping trip!
You were correct in your original assumption on eggplants being poisonous. They are a member of the nightshade family. They have been domesticated enough to were the poison content is completely limited. The same exact can be said about potatoes. These are both a member of the Nightshade family. Eggplant seeds also contain nicotine (extremely harmless amounts).
On another note, excellent article! The grill methods is, indeed, one of my favorites.
It is funny how wide the world is. Here in Majorca, eggplants are called «albergínia» and we have maaaany recipes using them 😀
You can make a tasty veggie bolognaise-type sauce by cutting an eggplant into chunks and throwing it into your food processor. Don’t over-process, you want crumbs of eggplant – not mush (although if it turns to mush you can still use it – the sauce will just have less texture). Saute in olive oil (or whatever you like) for 5 or 10 minutes, and then throw in tomatoes, onions, garlic, chilli, oreganum, etc (or a napoletana sauce if you have one ready). Simmer for another 10 or 15 minutes, and serve over pasta, or under mashed potato as a cottage pie. This isn’t a recipe, just a technique – add the ingredients you like and cook until it tastes good. My eggplant-hating husband loves this dish.
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