When I cook, I tend to find a favorite vegetable and experiment until family, friends, and everyone else within a three-block radius is sick to death of seeing it on the kitchen table. Last year it was sweet potatoes and bell peppers. This year, it's eggplant. Baba ghanouj, ratatouille, Roasted Eggplant Spread, Broiled Eggplant Japonaise, and Baked Eggplant With Mushroom-Tomato Sauce have all made my dinner menu lately, to the alternating joy and consternation of my boyfriend.
Inexpensive and relatively high in fiber, eggplant is a dieter's dream food. Its density and chew rivals that of meat, and it can be prepared 134 different ways without much oil or bad-for-you additives. Take Eggplant in Spicy Tomato Sauce, for example. It's a Patricia Wells recipe I found on Dorie Greenspan's website, and its tastiness is inversely proportionate to its attractiveness (meaning: ugly, but good). Paired with a little pasta, its a full, hearty meal with buckets of flavor and very little fat.
I made three major changes to Wells' recipe, based on what I had on hand. First, I halved the cayenne pepper. A full teaspoon seemed like overkill, and I enjoy being able to feel my tongue. Second, I substituted kosher salt for fine sea salt. Third and finally, I used two large eggplants instead of four smaller ones. I would have liked to follow the instructions to the letter, but Key Food only offers eggplants in big, bigger, and Volvo.
So, before you're besieged by apples and winter squash, give eggplant an end-of-season salute. Whether it's with Spicy Tomato Sauce or something equally as rich and wonderful, you'll be the happier for it.
- 2 large, firm, fresh eggplant, washed but not peeled (about 2 lbs. total)
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 2 onions, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons thin slivers fresh ginger
- 6 plump garlic cloves, peeled, halved, green germ removed
- 1 small fresh chile pepper, minced, or 1/2 teaspoon ground dried cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
- 2 cups chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Halve the eggplants lengthwise. Brush the flesh lightly with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season with salt. Place the eggplant halves cut side down on a baking sheet. Place on a rack in the center of the oven and bake until soft and golden, about 30 minutes. After removing the eggplant halves from the oven, cut them in half again.
While the eggplant cooks, prepare the sauce: In a large deep frying pan, combine the onion, the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Toss to thoroughly coat the onions with the oil and cook, covered, over low heat until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, chile, and cumin and toss again to evenly coat the onions with the spices. Add the tomato sauce and chicken stock and simmer, covered, for about 5 minutes. Add the roasted eggplant halves, burying them in the sauce. Cook until the eggplant is very tender and has absorbed the sauce, about 20 minutes more.