Many people have a love-hate relationship with eggplants. Restaurants and home cooks have such a limited repertoire of eggplant recipes. Certainly, every Italian restaurant and pizza joint offers Baked Eggplant Parmesan and many home cooks stir up a batch of Ratatouille - but too often this results in an indiscernible mélange of mushy vegetables.
The poor eggplant (auberine (FR) melanzana (IT) berenjena (SP)) with its regal color and voluptuous shape is misunderstood and overlooked. You don’t have to smother it with tomato sauce and mozzarella! Does anyone even know what an eggplant actually tastes like?! Well, I do, and it’s delicious. I believe the secret to a delicious eggplant recipe is to treat the vegetable very carefully and delicately. To prove my point, here are two recipes – one where the eggplant solos, and the other, my Ratatouille recipe where each vegetable stands out.
This ridiculously easy recipe is the perfect stand-in for French fries and lets the taste of eggplant shine through. With its delicate taste and texture, it is a perfect side dish for grilled fish. Warning – these are addictively delicious!
1 pound eggplant, cut into ½ inch dice (do not peel the eggplant – just cut off the stem)
Oil for frying (I like to use Safflower or Sunflower Oil - high smoke points and neutral taste)
¾ cup cornstarch
Salt & pepper
As soon as you dice the eggplant, put it in a large bowl and cover with cold water and ¼ cup of salt. You may need to place a flat dish on top of the eggplant so that it stays submerged. Let it soak for at least ½ hour to remove any bitterness.
When ready to cook, drain the eggplant, rinse well with more water to remove all salt, then dry well. I find it easiest to dry the eggplant in a salad spinner, but you can dry it with paper towels if you prefer.
Return the eggplant to the (now dry) bowl, and toss with the cornstarch. You want each piece coated, but you don’t want clumps of cornstarch, so shake off any excess.
In a cast iron frying pan, heat about an inch of oil to 375 degrees. Working in two batches, fry the eggplant until it is crisp and lightly browned. This will only take a few minutes. Carefully transfer the eggplant onto a paper towel lined plate and lightly salt. Continue with the rest of the eggplant until all cooked.
The eggplant is best when served immediately, but if you’re timing is not quite right, you can toss the fried eggplant into a mesh basket and quickly reheat on a grill.
There are two secrets to this ratatouille – cut the vegetable into even-sized cubes, and sauté them separately.
1 small eggplant
2 small zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic, sliced
Olive oil, for sautéing
Herbes de Provence
Salt and Pepper
Cut the eggplant, zucchini, pepper and onion into ½ inch cubes.
In a cast iron pan pour in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil then sauté the vegetable cubes separately until lightly browned. Transfer each vegetable to one bowl. Sauté the garlic slices until golden, but not browned.
Return the sautéed vegetables to the pan. Add in the can of diced tomatoes and the herbes de Provence. Combine well and let the flavors meld together over low heat, covered, for about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you don’t want to use salt, Weber’s Salt Substitute seasoning also works very well in this recipe.
Sautéing the vegetables separately allows their individual flavors to shine even when stirred together. This Ratatouille is a good accompaniment for meat, poultry or fish and also a perfect appetizer when served with crackers.