Eggplant is easy to overlook. It is as much a seasonal creature as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and basil, but enjoying it is not exactly simple. You can’t munch on it raw as you drive home from the market and it needs a bit of tender loving care before it takes its place on the table.
I don’t think anyone has ever called eggplant sexy, though it does have its passionate fans, my younger daughter among them. She loves the nightshade so much that I’m always inspired to experiment on her behalf.
Late summer and early fall are perfect for enjoying eggplant, as we don’t mind the cooking it requires when evenings are cool. There’s an abundance of local eggplant at our farmers markets these days and it pairs beautifully with the season’s other vegetables, as we see in the classic Provençal dish, ratatouille, with typically includes tomatoes, zucchini and garlic as well as eggplant.
If you find yourself with too much eggplant on hand, you can cook it quickly and then freeze it to use in soups during the winter. All you need to do is bake it until it is tender or cut it into cubes and saute it in olive oil and then pack it in freezer bags. Eggplant soup - with or without lamb meatballs - is a joy on a stormy night.
For eggplant recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, including my favorite, eggplant with salsa verde, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
Baba ghanoush is a classic dish with deep roots throughout the Middle East, and whenever I write about it, I hear from several readers who tell me what I am doing wrong. Some versions include tomatoes, others call for mint and some are topped with a drizzle of olive oil and pomegranate molasses. From what I have been able to learn, mine is closest to the Egyptian version, a style that includes lemon, cumin and ground chiles, a combination of flavors that I enjoy a great deal.
Makes about 2 cups
1 large or 2 medium eggplant
— Olive oil
6 to 8 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
¼ cup sesame tahini (not toasted)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chipotle powder or other ground dried chile
2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
— Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
— Kosher Salt
— Black Pepper in a mill
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees or heat a stove-top grill. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and brush the cut surfaces lightly with olive oil. Bake or grill the eggplant until it is completely tender all the way through, about 45 minutes, depending on its size.
Let the eggplant cool thoroughly, peel it and chop it coarsely. Using a food processor or a large mortar and pestle, grind the eggplant and garlic together to make a fairly smooth paste. Fold in and mix until smooth. Transfer the paste to a bowl, add the cumin, chipotle powder, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil and mix thoroughly.
Taste, season with salt and pepper and correct for acid balance, adding more lemon juice as needed.
Serve at room temperature or chilled, with pita bread, sesame crackers, sliced sesame baguettes, vegetables for dipping or as a sandwich spread with roasted lamb.