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