Roasted Eggplant adds a smoky flavour to the carefully combined flavours of tomato marinated in fragrant herbs and lemon juice resulting in a healthy salad that is vegan, and low in carbs and calories.
I recall a conversation I had with Le hub years ago where I had asked what three foods ranked lowest on his list. To my greatest surprise, he reeled off two of my favourite foods – okra and aubergine. What a bummer! He’d gone on to describe, perhaps prompted by the look of despair on my face, some of his main issues with eggplant, starting with the characteristic bitterness of eggplant.
I can totally relate. I’ve had a few bitter tasting aubergines in my time, too. Le hub‘s other issue? How to cook aubergines. Again, I can totally relate. Because underneath that luscious, shiny, beautiful, deep-purple coat, lies the truth about aubergine. A bitter, tough and spongy truth. But Le hub‘s real issue – the blandness and just general un-sexiness of eggplant.. ouch!
And while I can totally relate with Le hub‘s observations about eggplant, I have to admit that there is something deeply satisfying about a plate of meaty, flavoursome, perfectly grilled eggplant. Unlocking the secret of eggplant requires just a little science. Eggplant contains plant steroids (saponins and glycoalkalides) whose function is to protect the plant against invasive parasites. These steroids are bitter-tasting, reducing the appeal of the plant to parasites. Glycoalkaloids are mainly found in the flesh of unripe aubergines, while saponins are mainly concentrated in the seeds. As a home-cook, this information is key to choosing eggplants.
How To Choose Eggplants
Look for eggplants that have a smooth and shiny skin and the colour should be consistent and vibrant all over the eggplant. Favour eggplants with a taut and smooth skin over ones with dull and wrinkled skin. Look at the calyx -the green leaves at the end of the stem. Problems with the eggplant usually manifest first at the calyx, so pay special attention to this area. Is it fresh and green? or looks brown, mouldy or dried-out?
Choose eggplants that are firm to the touch, and feel heavy for its size. Press the eggplant lightly. Does it have a slight give when pressed? And does it spring back to its prior form when the applied pressure is removed?
How to Cook Eggplant
Reducing the Bitterness
One trick I find handy with aubergines is salting. By placing salt on a slice of eggplant and leaving that to rest for an hour, the process of osmosis is triggered. Salt triggers osmosis by attracting water and causing the water to move toward it (the salt), across a cell membrane. As the water is drawn out of the aubergine, some of the bitter compounds are also drawn out as well, reducing the bitterness somewhat.
After an hour, wrap the eggplant in a kitchen towel and blot dry. This achieves two objectives – first, it removes any excess water from the aubergine slices, and secondly, by applying a little pressure while blotting dry, you also collapse some of the air pockets in the cells of the aubergine, which means the aubergine will absorb less oil when you get round to cooking it.
Now that we’ve addressed the issue of bitterness, let’s move on to the issue of flavour. I must confess that the eggplants’ bland, earthy quality, isn’t exactly drool-worthy, on a standalone basis. However, as a paradox of sorts, the eggplants’ weakness which is its’ blandness, happens to also be its’ strongest defining character where flavour is concerned.
Eggplant makes a perfect canvas for other flavours to sit on, and develop. Sweet and tangy are perfect complements to eggplant, and this roasted eggplant and tomato salad incorporates these flavours perfectly. Start by roasting the eggplant, then marinate the roasted eggplant to infuse it with the flavours of the tomatoes, herbs and spices.Then try staying away from the resulting aromatic and heady salad that you have just created!
You’ll need a good dose of willpower..that’s for sure.
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