September 18, 2008

This Just In: Eggplants, a Profile

Print More

Unlike chocolate and bacon, vegetables cannot be eaten all year. They have their own special times, when the weather is right and the regional plant life is in the mood for love.
Currently in season is the eggplant, the ovary of the Solanum melongena plant. For years eggplant belonged to the list of vegetables I refused to allow anyone to serve me, before I realized that these innocent vegetables and I were merely the victims of careless, if not criminally incompetent vegetable cookery.
Vegetables should not be a chore to eat. They should be prepared with care, generous seasoning and plenty of fat, and should never be over or undercooked.
Find a way to get to the Farmer’s Market. Have you ever flown in a plane? After several hours of flight and a few more hours of tedious security procedures, you are in bad shape. A vegetable is no different. If it has been picked by a friendly farmer and takes a relaxing half-hour ride to meet you at the market, it will be much happier to give you all the pleasure it is capable of providing.
You should choose the most arousing eggplant you can find, with taut, smooth skin and a lush round mammiform shape, or in the case of the “Japanese” eggplant, a firm, proud erection.
I only have space to share one dish with you here. It is one that even those who hate eggplant will devour. Slice the eggplant into three-eighths-inch rounds — don’t waste your time peeling its beautiful and nutritious skin— place them in a bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt, making sure both sides of each slice are salted. Now let them sit for an hour, ideally in a colander suspended over a bowl or the sink. You will notice a brown-ish liquid dripping out as the internal structure of the eggplant collapses to produce a delectably smooth texture and a subtle flavor.
Pour one-fourth inch deep of olive oil into a skillet and set it over medium-high heat. Put the slices into the hot oil in a single layer, frying for about two minutes before flipping and cooking the other side for another two. Remove the crispy slices to a paper-towel lined plate and sprinkle with paprika and cumin. If, while the eggplants were degorging, you had combined a half-cup of yogurt, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a minced clove of garlic, you would have an ideal dipping sauce.