- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Come fall, some people’s thoughts turn to school supplies. Mine turn to eggplant, abundant in late summer and early autumn. With their voluptuous shape and glossy skins in shades of deep purple to pale lavender to green and even white, I find them the most seductive of produce.

Unlike the tomato or peach, which I can simply slice and serve, the eggplant requires a little effort. Many cooks insist that eggplant needs to be salted and drained before cooking, but there is more than one school of thought on the subject. The salt, which draws out the excess moisture, is supposed to reduce any bitterness. But in my experience, freshly picked farmers’ market eggplant is never bitter.

Mostly, it is the eggplant that has been kept in cold storage and sold in midwinter that develops a bitter taste. However, I do salt and drain eggplant if I intend to fry it in olive oil, as I do in the following recipe. If the eggplant is left unsalted, the excess moisture turns to steam when it is fried, and the result is soggy pieces of eggplant.

I watched my mother salt and drain plenty of eggplant when I was a child. First she peeled it, alternating swipes of the peeler and turning the eggplant into a striped tiger, something that still amuses me when I do it. Then she cut it into thick slices and layered it in a large colander, sprinkling each layer with table salt.

She then placed a plate on top of the eggplant and weighed it down with a large can of tomatoes. She set the colander in a pie plate or in the sink and left it to drain about an hour. After draining, she rinsed the slices with cold water and placed them in a single layer on a large, clean kitchen towel, which she rolled and squeezed to expel even more moisture.

Eggplant, a member of the nightshade family along with potatoes, tomatoes and bell peppers, is native to Asia. This makes perfect sense when you consider the many eggplant recipes in Indian, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cooking. But I probably gravitate toward Italian-style eggplant dishes because I grew up eating my mother’s eggplant Parmesan — a rich dish that took her hours to prepare and that I still crave from time to time. To me, eggplant is most comfortable in the company of tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil.

With that in mind, I made the following salad of fried eggplant tossed with cubed ripe tomatoes, plenty of basil and parsley, toasted pine nuts and feta cheese. (Yes, I know feta is Greek, but it’s delicious with these flavors.)

Serve this as a side dish with roasted chicken or toss it with cooked rice or pasta and serve as a main dish. For dessert, serve gingered peach sauce over vanilla ice cream.

Preparation: Cut up and salt eggplant. Meanwhile, dice tomatoes. Make the peach sauce. Fry eggplant and cook pasta or rice, if using. Or cut up the chicken and arrange on a platter.

Eggplant and tomato salad

The preparation time is 30 minutes, and the cooking time is 20 to 30 minutes.

1½ pounds eggplant, peeled in alternate strips, cut into ½-inch-thick slices

Salt, pepper

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds tomatoes, cored and cut into ½-inch chunks

¼ cup chopped Italian parsley

½ cup chopped basil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

1 cup crumbled feta cheese, rinsed and patted dry

Stack eggplant slices and cut into ½-inch cubes. Toss with 2 teaspoons salt and place in a colander. Set colander in the sink and weight the eggplant with a salad plate topped with a large can of tomatoes. Let stand 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare remaining ingredients. When eggplant is drained, rinse with cold water. Spread on a clean kitchen towel, roll up towel and twist to extract the excess moisture from the eggplant.

Heat oil in a medium skillet. Add the eggplant in batches, if necessary, and fry until golden brown, about 12 minutes per batch.

Transfer to a paper-lined plate with a slotted spoon.

Toss browned eggplant with tomatoes, parsley, basil, garlic, pine nuts and feta cheese.

Sprinkle with black pepper. Taste before adding more salt. Serve as a room-temperature salad with roasted chicken or toss with 12 ounces of cooked pasta or 3 to 4 cups of cooked rice. Makes 4 servings.


The preparation time is 10 minutes.

2 cups diced and peeled fresh ripe peaches

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger (optional)

1 to 2 teaspoons sugar

1 pint vanilla ice cream

Combine peaches, lime juice, ginger and sugar to taste in a medium bowl. Stir to blend. Serve spooned over ice cream. Makes 4 servings.


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