I think my childhood aversion to eggplant started when I put two simple words together — egg and plant — and decided that the resulting visual was not something I was interested in eating. Yet just yesterday I whipped up a spinach omelet which gave me the power to eat about two dozen wings, bringing my one-week wing count up to 48. Thanks, eggs and plants.
Rather than write about the salads I should be eating post-tailgating binges (all week), however, I’d like to discuss this vegetable I find most meatlike on this least meatlike of Mondays. Yup, still doing Meatless Mondays. When cooked, eggplant’s naturally rich flavor, a complex combination of sweet, earthy and smoky just begs for your favorite seasoning. Mine, of course, is garam masala.
To make this dish, bhaigan bharta, I grill eggplant halves until charred, scoop out the filling, mash it with and a mix of onions, garlic, ginger and green chilis sauteed with garam masala, and serve it over rice. However, if you want to add an egg and some breadcrumbs to the eggplant mixture, form patties and pan-fry them, I do believe you’ve just created the spicy veggie burger of a lifetime.
Caponata, Sicilian sweet and sour eggplant is another excellent go-to lunch. I rarely leave the Italian market without a quart or so of it because it’s so versatile. Fried eggplant, celery, tomatoes and red peppers in sweet vinegar with capers is the perfect topping for pasta, hot or cold. It makes a killer first layer in any sandwich, meat-filled or not, and is pretty solid piled on a slice of cheese pizza. But it’s really solid piled on a slice of fried eggplant pizza.
Finally, simple grilled eggplant is the foundation for one of my favorite sandwiches, ever. Thin slices of smoky, crisp, slightly burned eggplant, thick slices of fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, fresh basil leaves and plenty of extra-virgin olive oil. I call it “The Jess,” but I’m sure it has another more attractive name in Italy.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with breading, frying, saucing and topping eggplant with cheese. But that’s so easy.