Eggplant! Yes, it’s a plant. No, there is no egg in it, vegans. And yes, it is so much more than a late-night emoji.
Eggplant gets a bad rep as a bitter, slimy veggie that is overshadowed by its phallic shape and obscure origins. But its beauty is reason enough to devour these veggies with deep purple skin and meat tinted the shade of green like a cool jazz player’s sunglasses. Prep and cook eggplant right, and it is a silky wonderland ready to be packed with flavor.
The key to eggplant is the prep. Eggplants trap moisture in their meat that gives off a bitter taste when cooked. To rid your dish of this unwelcome hydration, they must be purged. So don your best hockey mask, and get ready for a night of lawlessness.
Purging eggplant only requires it to be cut open, salted and placed in a sieve to sit for at least 30 minutes. This step is crucial — rush it and you’re giving bitterness a free one-way ticket to your taste buds.
For this recipe, the only must-have ingredients are olive oil, salt and pepper. But that’s no fun, so garlic, thyme and rosemary are heavily recommended.
Start by cutting the eggplant in half lengthwise. Generously sprinkle salt on the cut sides and set in a bowl for the bitter moisture to be drawn out by the salt.
While the eggplants rest for at least 30 minutes, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Using the flat side of a chef’s knife, smash two cloves of garlic to remove the skin, and thinly slice them.
In small bowl, mix 1 tbsp. of olive oil with a tbsp. each of dried rosemary and thyme. Over-oiling will make the eggplants soggy, but under-oiling will result in a dry, flavorless meal. Adjust the amount of oil to be able to spread an even amount across the entire eggplant.
When the eggplants are done with their purge, there should be a small puddle of dark brown liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Discard the liquid and wipe off the salt.
With a paring knife, make diagonal half-inch slashes into the meat of the eggplant, careful not to pierce through to the skin. Make equivalent slashes the other direction, creating a diamond pattern. Stuff the garlic slivers into the cuts and massage in the oil and herb mix. Crack fresh pepper atop the eggplant, place it on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until soft and divine.
To add a special touch, grate cheese on top of the veggies and finish in the oven for a few minutes. Parmesan, feta and other hard, low-fat cheeses work best.
Serve with pasta, rice, salad or all by themselves.
Contact CU Independent Multimedia Manager and Grapevine Culinary Contributor Jackson Barnett at Jackson.Barnett@colorado.edu.