In conversation with Raf Epstein, 774 ABC Melbourne, 28 Feb 2017
Alice Zaslavsky, food educator and author of Alice’s A to Z, makes the case for eggplant on Foodie Tuesday. You can find Alice on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @aliceinframes.
Alice’s Easy Eggplant Tips
Seasonality: The best time for buying and cooking eggplant is late summer/ early autumn.
What to look for: Ideally, you’re looking for shiny skin, firm flesh and bright green tops that haven’t started to dry out or go mouldy.
Unusual varieties: Sicilian (Striped – for chips), Lebanese (long and skinny, best for pickling or grilling), Thai (tiny, round, best for Thai curries), Indian (small, egg-shaped, best for Indian curries).
How to store: Keep your eggplant in a cool, dry place and try to use it within a couple of days of buying – they’re quite spongy and start to get sad pretty quickly. Due to their subtropical origins, keeping them in the fridge actually accelerates the sadness, so wherever you’re storing your happy tomatoes is best.
To salt or not to salt: Salting draws out moisture and helps to reduce bitterness in older/bigger eggplants. You don’t have to salt if you’ve scored fresh, smaller eggplants, or if you plan on baking them. If you’re choosing to grill or fry, salting can be a handy step for crispier results – but I don’t tend to bother – unless I slice one open and there’re heaps of seeds inside. This tells me it’s older and probably more bitter than expected (like the Miss Havisham of Nightshades). Be sure to pat dry before using, and keep in mind that there’s usually no need to season the dish at the end because you’ve got all the flavour you need already.
How to cook: Eggplants taste best when they’re charred and smokey or baked for long enough to become silky and slippery. Grill your eggplants dry and brush with oil and aromats like garlic and spices once they’re golden brown on both sides to avoid your eggplanty sponge from soaking up all of the cooking oil and becoming slimy. Bake your eggplants whole at 200C with a glug of olive oil and sprinkle of salt flakes until they’re soft (about 40 mins), or slice and roast until golden using the same method (15-20 mins). I like to halve eggplants vertically, char face-down in a dry, hot, well-seasoned pan, and then bake until soft – that way I get the best of both worlds and the flavour is phenomenal!
BabagaHOW? If you’re looking to make your own babaganoush at home and have access to an open flame, leave your eggplant whole and uncovered on a medium heat until the eggplant is dry and blackened on the outside, and soft in the middle. Poke a slit in the side and hang your eggplant over a bowl or the kitchen sink to drain of excess moisture. Add tahini, garlic, paprika, coriander, a squeeze of lemon juice, olive oil and salt, and fork together for a chunky baba-ganoush or blitz in a food processor for a smooth result.
Complementary pairings: Cultivated in antiquity and domesticated in Indo-Burma, eggplants love Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Pan-Asian flavours, because of their natural affinity for warm spices and aromatic herbs. Coriander, basil or parsley are your best bets for herbs, and spices that suit best are cumin seeds, ground coriander or paprika.
© 2017 Alice Zaslavsky