Eggplant is not one of my regular go-to vegetables. I like the outside color—what’s not to like about purple? And I really like the French word for it: aubergine sounds much sexier than “eggplant.” But then I prefer referring to those flowery fireworks with the ungainly English moniker–bougainvillea—by their French name as well: flamboyantes. Like aubergine, flamboyante is just fun to say.
(On the other hand, I like green beans—one of my favorite vegetables– over haricot verts not only because green beans is easier to say and kind of rhymes, but I’ve seen a few too many hairy coats on old beans. Not particularly appetizing.)
Aside from their flamboyant exterior, eggplants are pretty bland. You open one up to find a mealy looking interior done in relocation beige. It makes me want to move on. That purple exterior is the culinary equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. The flavor of eggplant is also boring. Have you ever seen an eggplant Jelly Belly? Like tofu, it has little personality until you flavor it up with something else. That’s why it is so successful in a dish like ratatouille. (Guess I’m stuck on French references today. C’est la vie.)
Eggplants also tend to be really, really big. That’s a problem if you’re living on a boat with limited real estate. So unless I’m making ratatouille, I rarely invite eggplant to dinner. But every once in a while I find myself looking longingly at that alluringly lurid packaging and allow myself to be seduced. I let my imagination run amok with things I could do to it in the privacy of my galley and I’ll take an aubergine (not an eggplant!) home with me.
The real challenge with the aubergine is what to do with it if you don’t have a recipe already in mind. You almost have to oil it up to squeeze it into the icebox. Once there, it demands your attention every time you open the reefer. The previously seductive purple takes on a reproachful and accusatory hue that seems to say, “What’s the matter, cherie? Aren’t you chef enough for me?” So you go online and search your favorite food porn sites until you are sufficiently stimulated to have a go at it.
My most recent eggplant conquest was inspired mostly by recipes from Fine Cooking and Epicurious.com. I looked longingly at a recipe that called for a roasted bell pepper relish, but opted for something quick and simple. With the help of some blended Mexican cheese I had in the freezer, a large juicy tomato from Ilona Rouda’s garden—left after the Rouda’s recent stay on Gaviidae—and the very last of the basil from our hanging shoe-bag herb garden, I grilled up what Julie says is the best eggplant side she’s ever had. Served with delectable little lamb chops rubbed with Cavender’s Greek seasoning and dressed with freshly made Greek vinaigrette, the aubergine was Ooh la la, magnifique.
Here’s the recipe I concocted:
- 1 aubergine (eggplant, if you prefer), sliced into four rounds, each ½-inch thick. Get any size aubergine . Unless you’re feeding 50, you probably won’t use it all in this recipe, anyway.
- 1 ripe tomato, sliced in ½-inch rounds
- 1/3 cup mixed shredded cheese (Mexican or pizza blend)
- 1 clove garlic—diced and/or mashed
- 1/3 cup panko or Italian-style dry bread crumbs
- 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves—chopped
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Set grill to medium heat.
- Mix bread crumbs, shredded cheese, garlic and 1/3 cup basil in a small bowl; set aside.
- Sprinkle eggplant and tomato slices with salt and pepper to taste.
- Brush one side of aubergine rounds with oil. Grill, oiled side down, about 3 minutes, or until bottom sides are tender and marked by the grill.
- Brush top side of eggplant slices with more oil; turnover and place tomatoes on marked side, then spread cheese mixture over tomatoes. Sprinkle with parmesan and drizzle with remaining oil. Cover and grill 7 minutes, or until cheese melts.
- Transfer eggplant slices to plates. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Recipe for Greek vinaigrette:
This vinaigrette will add a zesty Greek flavor to salad or all kinds of grilled foods, especially lamb, chicken or fish. Vinaigrette will keep for a week refrigerated in a closed container. Shake or stir vigorously before serving.
Yields: 1 cup
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon, juiced (1/4 cup)
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar (optional—or additional lemon juice)
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed, then minced
- 1 tbsp dried oregano leaves (or ¼ cup fresh oregano, coarsely chopped)
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
Mix ingredients well in bowl; let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving. Top lamb, chicken, fish or salad with vinaigrette; garnish with parsley.