Let’s get this straight, eggplants are not bitter, unless they are old and undercooked, which explains why some people insist they don’t like them.
But a plump, shiny fresh eggplant, when roasted, grilled or stewed, the latter with low, slow heat, will turn deliciously mild, silky and lush. With eggplant as fresh as those you’ll find in our farmers market right now, there is really no need to salt or drain them first. That advice, from outdated cookbooks, was intended for eggplants that had seen better days.
At our farmers markets, you’ll find glorious varieties of eggplants in rainbow colors — pale green, white, striped and the magnificent deep, plump purple. Look for eggplants that are firm and shiny without dents or soft spots and that sport bright green caps. At home, keep eggplants on the counter rather than in the refrigerator; these members of the nightshade family do not tolerate cold and moisture that damages their delicate flavor and expedites rot.
Roasted eggplant is the base for the Greek dip, melitzanosalata, (meh-lee-TZAH-noh-sah-LAH-tah). Garlic-studded and lemony, it’s similar to baba ghanoush, of Arabic origin. The two dips differ in texture and ingredients. The Greek version is lighter and a bit chunkier; baba ghanoush is made creamy with tahini.
Melitzanosalata is traditionally served as part of a meze plate, an assortment of tapas-like appetizers that often includes mixed olives, roasted feta cheese, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, cherry tomatoes and warm pita.
Colorful and varied, the meze is set out before dinner and meant to accompany drinks and conversation. It also makes a wonderful, casual backyard meal.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.
Greek Eggplant Dip (Melitzanosalata)
Makes about 1 to 1 1/2 cups.
Note: Serve this with warm pita or chips. Or spread it on sandwiches and pizza; toss it with pasta, a few chopped cherry tomatoes, a sprinkling of feta, for a light summer meal. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 large eggplants
• 3 to 4 garlic cloves, smashed
• 2 to 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, to taste
• Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 2 tbsp. finely minced fresh basil
• 2 tbsp. finely minced fresh parsley
• 1 to 2 tsp. finely minced fresh mint, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prick the eggplants with a fork and place on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast, turning occasionally, until the eggplants are very soft and have collapsed on themselves, about 55 minutes to 1 hour.
Remove the eggplants and rest until cool enough to handle. Remove and discard the skin and place the flesh onto the cutting board, coarsely chop and transfer to a bowl.
Add the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and smash together with the back of a fork. Stir in the fresh herbs, taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Nutrition information per ¼ cup:
Fat 5 g
Sodium 6 mg
Carbohydrates 15 g
Saturated fat 1 g
Added sugars 0 g
Protein 2 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Dietary fiber 7 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 carb, 1 fat.