The Eggplant. It may be one of the most forgiving and versatile vegetables ever. You can char it to a crisp. You can slow cook it. You can deep fry it. There are really two ways to screw up eggplants in my opinion. First is to serve it raw – don’t do this unless you want an upset stomach. The other way is to let it soak up too much oil during the cooking process (and an eggplant can absorb A LOT of oil).
I’m often inspired to cook certain foods at home based on what I’m doing at work. I guess my brain can only keep so many ideas easily accessible. I’ve been doing work at an Israeli/Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant so eggplant is definitely on my mind. And so while I’m feeling inspired, I decided to make one dish utilizing eggplants cooked several ways. Rather than write out a full recipe, I’m deciding to focus more the different methods. The ambitious reader will be able to follow along.
Four small Italian eggplants were used for this dish.
Charred whole eggplants
Poke holes into two of the eggplants with a fork. Put it on a sheet tray with a rack and throw it onto the top rack of an oven on high broil. The holes will keep the eggplant from exploding when the water inside the eggplant evaporates and expands. Turn the eggplant every 10 minutes so it cooks evenly. After 30 minutes, the skin should be crispy and the flesh will have sunken in a bit. It may take up to 50 minutes depending on your oven. Once done, remove from oven and let cool.
Split open the charred eggplants once it is cool enough to handle. Spoon out the insides, which should be very tender and place into a food processor. RESERVE THE SKIN for the next step. Add one clove of microplaned (or finely minced) garlic, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a pinch of salt to taste. The garlic should be subtle, and the lemon juice will really make the eggplant shine.
Eggplant Spice Blend
Take the skin from the charred eggplants and put it back into the oven set at 350°F until it is crispy throughout. When you bend it between your fingers, the skin should snap rather than flex. In the meantime, toast about one tablespoon of black sesame and one tablespoon of white sesame. Grind the toasted sesame seeds in a coffee grinder until finely ground. Then grind the eggplant skin in the coffee grinder until fine. I was able to yield a little over one tablespoon of eggplant skin to which I added the two tablespoons of sesames seeds, 1/2 tablespoon of cumin and 1/2 tablespoon of coriander.
Take a raw eggplant, stem and split lengthwise. Slice one of the halves lengthwise very thin on a mandoline. Place of a Silpat, brush very lightly with oil and sprinkle with salt and smoked paprika. Dehydrate in the oven at 180°F until crispy throughout.
Note: there is a trade-off with the amount of oil used. Too much and it gets greasy. No oil and its hard to get a good crisp.
Honey Miso Eggplant
You should now have one and a half small eggplants left. Cut the last whole eggplant lengthwise in half. Score the inside flesh with a paring knife in a cross-hatch fashion. Cuts should be deep but should not pierce the skin. Lightly salt the flesh side and let sit for 15 minutes to let the water draw out. In the meantime, mix while miso, honey and mirin. I made mine at a ratio of 3:2:1 respectively. Preheat oven to 425°F and heat up an oven-safe pan with no oil on high. Place the eggplant halves flesh down onto a very hot pan with no oil. Flip one of the eggplants to see if it is getting color. When you see that the flesh is picking up color and there is some steam coming of the sides of the eggplants, turn off the flame and carefully drizzle in just enough neutral oil to cover the pan. If the pan is hot enough, the flesh will be nicely browned with very little oil. There shouldn’t even be a need to turn the stove back on. Flip the eggplants flesh side up once it is browned and brush on the miso-honey paste. Place in oven for about 8 minutes or until flesh is soft throughout and the honey begins to caramelize.
The Plate Up, and additional garnishes
I made pickled jalapenos by bringing white wine vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil and pouring it over sliced jalapenos. Let cool and sit for at least an hour. I also, made a mint yogurt garnish yogurt, freshly chopped mint, lemon juice and honey.
To plate, spoon puree onto the bottom and spread, creating a small well at the bottom. Sprinkle on the spice blend. Place Honey-miso eggplant and eggplant chips alternating between the two. Top with yogurt, pickled jalapeno and a pinch of smoked paprika.