Simply put, eggplant is a seductive vegetable. It’s elegant in all its deep purple — or ivory white, slender lavender or black — variations. When cooked, it’s tender, silken and lush.
The eggplant is exotic to this region, hailing from India and Sri Lanka, and it thrives in the Mediterranean climates of fiercely hot summers. It’s a wonder we can grow eggplant in this region at all. But our farmers are good at producing beautiful eggplants. Witness the mounds of them I can still find filling farmers market stalls.
This gorgeous member of the nightshade family is not big on flavor; it’s the texture that makes it unique. It relies on pungent garlic and onions, sweet chiles, tangy tomatoes and plenty of olive oil to become a good dish.
Most recipes advise salting the eggplant before cooking — the process of salting the cubed or sliced fruit, then leaving it in a colander, is thought to remove the bitterness in some varieties. But most of that attribute has been bred out. And, frankly, I can’t tell the difference between salting and not salting, so I eliminate this fussy step.
When shopping for eggplant, let your eyes be the guide. Avoid those that are bruised, dull, misshapen or shrunken. A good eggplant is glossy and plump. When you get the eggplants home, know that they don’t like the cold. Like tomatoes, they are best kept at room temperature.
Eggplant is one of the few vegetables that are completely inedible raw. And it is one that, when cooked, is best treated to a sauce or complemented with onions, garlic and herbs. Classic eggplant recipes involve sharp flavors — peppers, olives, capers, garlic as well as cinnamon, cumin and coriander.
Sicilian cooks make the most of the eggplants that grow so beautifully in their fierce climate. Their famous caponata, a rich sweet-sour stew, delicious warm or cold, makes great use of the season’s last eggplants, tomatoes and peppers. It makes a lovely side dish to grilled or roast chicken, a nice condiment for grilled fish. Toss it with pasta or serve over farro.
I always end up piling it high on a thick slice of chewy sourdough bread.
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: This tastes better a day or two after it’s made. Feel free to adjust the amounts of vinegar, olives and capers. It’s great warm, at room temperature or chilled. Eat as is, or toss with pasta or serve atop bread. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 tbsp. olive oil, or more if needed
• 1 1/2 lb. eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2- in. pieces
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 4 large garlic cloves
• 2 red bell peppers, diced
• 1 lb. ripe Roma tomatoes, diced
• 3 tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
• 3 tbsp. chopped green or black olives
• 3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
• 1/2 to 1 tsp. red pepper flakes, to taste
• Generous pinch sugar, optional
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Film a large, deep skillet with the oil and set over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the eggplant and sauté until it is brown and soft, about 5 to 8 minutes, adding more oil if necessary. Remove the cooked eggplant from the pan and set aside.
To the pan, add the onions, garlic, peppers and tomatoes, then return the eggplant to the pan; cover and reduce the heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very soft, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the cover and stir in the remaining ingredients and continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick and chunky. Season to taste before serving.
Nutritio n information per serving for 8:
Carbohydrates 12 g
Protein 2 g
Fat 4 g
Saturated fat 1 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 130 mg
Total sugars 6 mg
Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges: 2 vegetable, 1 fat.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.