This week I noticed the first boxes of beautiful eggplant available for sale at the Saturday market.
Early summer is the best time of year to purchase eggplant, which will be available in many forms through the end of the fall season. From the most common globe eggplant to the fancy white skinned or purple and white speckled heirloom varieties, your local farmers will be loaded with a great selection for the months to come.
Fresh eggplant can be quite the versatile vegetable in the kitchen.
Well, technically it’s a fruit.
Originally from India, eggplant is found regularly in such traditional cuisine, as well as throughout Southeast Asia. It is also heavily incorporated into Italian-style dishes. This member of the nightshade family shares the likes of potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, commonly paired with such vegetables in dishes.
In the fields, the plants are erect with broad green leaves possessing purple veins expanding in all directions. The eggplant, like tomatoes, hangs downward in a vine-like fashion. It’s harvested once it reaches the desired size and color.
On its own, eggplant does not tend to have a ton of flavor. Eaten raw, it can be quite bitter, with a distinct spongy texture. The flavor tends to get much more pleasant once sautéed, roasted in the oven, or fried, delivering a creamier texture and less bitter flavor.
Commonly paired in dishes with more intensely flavored ingredients, eggplant is commonly found in Asian-style stir-fry with an abundance of basil and garlic, spicy curry dishes, or fried and topped with rich tomato sauces such as eggplant parmesan.
There are many uses for eggplant. Through the summer, I enjoy making healthy spreads utilizing the great mix of fresh summer veggies available at the farmers market. I also enjoy simply slicing them in half lengthwise, topping with a sweet chili sauce base and slow roasted in the oven. Once finished, this makes for a nice side dish on the dinner plate.
Roasted Sweet Chili Eggplant
3 medium eggplant, sliced in half lengthwise
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the eggplant skin side down on a roasting pan. In a mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients and mix well. Top each eggplant flesh with mixture, spreading evenly. Cook for about 40 minutes or until tender. Yield: Serves 3.