Eggplant is about as unique a vegetable you can find. Its properties are unmatched by anything we grow here on Piedmont Biofarm. It is at once a thick, meaty steak that holds up to the grill, and a wilted bag of delicious pulp that one can transform into spreads or dips. And to be completely accurate, it isn’t a vegetable at all, but a fruit, specifically a berry. Many people balk at the idea of cooking eggplant because it is supposedly “bitter”, or perhaps they had an extra slimey eggplant parmesan straight out of the microwave at a local red sauce joint many years ago, leaving an indelible mark on the reputation of one of the finest ingredients around.
If you’ve ever wondered why the eggplant is named so, it is quite simple. Though they have been selected for color over the years, earlier cultivars of eggplants were in fact white and appeared to be eggs hanging from small nightshade bushes. There are many varieties of this popular plant grown all over the world, and we are currently growing two varieties here at Piedmont Biofarm, each with its own characteristic flavor and inherent use in the kitchen.
A farmer’s market favorite. These are purple- and white-striped, and harvested at a relatively small size, maybe about 3-4 inches long. They are great for serving whole, not just for ease of preparation, but because they are so visually stunning to serve whole. When we cook them we simply split them down the middle and score the exposed flesh. This helps steam travel through the whole fruit while you cook it, expediting the cooking process. We sear them scored-side down in a cast iron skillet until golden brown and the “meat” is cooked through. Serve them with other summer vegetables in a beautiful medley, or as the main accompaniment to a dish with lots of sauce; eggplant soaks up sauce like a champ!
Larger than the fairytales, these varieties are more easily manipulated beyond their original state. We recommend slicing into ½-inch steaks, salting it and letting it rest for 30-60 minutes. This essentially “purges” the eggplant of much of its excess moisture, concentrating it both in flavor and texture. At this point, you can brush it in olive oil, throw it on the grill or in a cast iron skillet and cook until it is tender. Its a great substitute for meat, and holds up to very flavorful sauces. If you feel like spending an afternoon getting ready for dinner, you could try your hand at eggplant parmesan. Purging will help avoid the slimy bitterness you may have experienced in the past, and if you spend a good amount of time breading, frying, and drying off the excess oil you have the base of an incredibly flavorful dish. Simply layer in a casserole with sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil, and bake until bubbling. Doing it in individual casseroles is even better, and complimentary to small-scale home-cooking.
These beautiful, satiny-purple, orb-shaped fruits, are perfect when roasted whole for the mediterranean condiment baba ghanoush. The preparation for this dish is very simple, and is enhanced by the presence of charcoal or even better, wood-flame.
4 medium suraj or ophelia eggplants
1 head garlic
juice and zest from one lemon
1/2 cup tahini (sesame butter)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
If you are going to use a grill (which we highly recommend), light it using either propane, charcoal or wood. If not, set the broiler element of your oven to "high". While your grill/broiler is heating, put the eggplant in a bowl and drizzle the vegetable oil over them. We like using neutral oils with high smoking points, but if you prefer other oils, this is not a problem. Using your hands, mix the eggplants around so they are evenly coated with oil. The oil will help conduct heat more evenly over the surface of the eggplant during the cooking process.
Now take the head of garlic, halve it, coat it in a little oil and wrap it in foil. Place whole eggplants and garlic pouches either on the grill and cover, or under the broiler on a baking sheet and leave for 5 minutes. Check in every so often and keep turning the eggplants. If they begin to burn, that's ok: it will only enhance the smoky flavor you are trying to achieve! Once the eggplant begins to wilt and all sides are nicely charred, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool at room temperature until you are ready to handle it. Remove the garlic pouches, open them and inspect for doneness - the garlic should be tender, translucent, and separating from the skin. If not, place it back on or under the heat for a while longer while the eggplant cools.
When everything is done and cooled, peel the skin off the eggplant, and place the pulp into a mixing bowl. If you can't get all the skin, that's ok - your kitchen at home doesn't need the same standards as a fancy restaurant! Squeeze the garlic pulp out of its skin and into the same bowl. Add tahini, lemon juice, and salt & pepper and mash with a fork until everything is homogenized. Correct the seasonings if you prefer a different balance of flavors. The great thing about this dish is that you can easily adjust the ratio of ingredients to create an eggplant dip that is customized for you! Enjoy with pita, or grilled meat and vegetables.
Eggplant are like many of their nightshade brethren in that they prefer a temperature in the low 50s. However, if you only have a fridge, keep them in your crisper drawer away from other fruit and vegetables which contain ethylene. They should last a little over a week until they start to get super soft and are no longer flavorful and fresh tasting. Perforated bags are always best so the fruit can breath.