Advice from an Expert: Adam Ried on Eggplant


 

By Adam Ried

Like many of us of a certain age, I try to keep my diet as healthy as I can. I limit animal fats and sugar, steer as clear of simple carbohydrates as my willpower allows, and eat plenty of ber- packed fruit and vegetables. 

One summer stalwart, in my pursuit of delicious vegetables, is the eggplant.
 
Throughout the summer and into the fall, when eggplants are abundant, inexpensive, and at their peak of flavor, I cook them at least once a week. My favorite approach is to turn the flesh into a salad that I keep in the fridge ready to be used as a light lunch, a healthy snack, or a no-fuss dinner side dish. 

There are plenty of options for this type of salad. The flavor of the eggplant itself is mild and neutral, so it takes well to 
a variety of seasonings and additions. The cuisines of most Mediterranean, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern countries include an eggplant salad. Generally speaking, the cooked eggplant is mashed or pureed, and usually seasoned with olive oil and lemon, at a minimum. Different countries then put their own flavor stamp on the salad—perhaps roasted red peppers and paprika in Spain, or rosemary and Parmesan cheese for the Italians, or the sesame paste called tahini in the Middle East, which gives you a salad called baba ghanoush that’s popular here in the United States, too.
 
In other words, once you know how to cook the eggplant, the whole world of flavors is yours. And cooking them couldn’t be easier: Poke some holes in the skin with a fork, and put them on a pan in a very hot oven (or on a hot grill, if you have access to one), and just leave them until they are so tender they collapse.


 
In this simple recipe we add yogurt, garlic, and fresh mint for a vaguely Greek—or some might say Iranian—flavor. The yogurt adds an additional health benefit to the dish.
 One extra step that’s worth the minimal effort is draining the cooked eggplant before seasoning it. Just put it in a mesh strainer or colander over a bowl and stir and fold the eggplant for a minute or two. This forces excess liquid out of the flesh, giving the salad an especially rich, lush, satisfying texture. 

Greek-Style Eggplant Salad with Yogurt

You could call this eggplant dish a salad, dip, spread, or puree, and you’d be right in every case. Whatever label you choose, it’s great for lunch, spread in a whole-grain pita with sliced tomatoes and lettuce, arugula, or baby spinach; as a snack with sliced fresh vegetables or triangles of whole-grain pita for dipping; or as a vegetable for dinner alongside simply cooked chicken, fish, or meat.

HANDS-ON TIME: 20 MINUTES
TOTAL TIME: 1 HOUR 20 MINUTES
MAKES: ABOUT 5 SERVINGS

INGREDIENTS

2 medium eggplants (about 2 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Turn the oven on and set the heat to 450 degrees. Cover a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
2. Poke the eggplants all over with a fork, put them on the prepared baking sheet, and put them in the oven.
3. Bake the eggplants until they are completely collapsed and the skins are blackened, 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning them over (tongs are the easiest tool for this) halfway through. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set aside until the eggplants are cool enough to handle.
4. Set a colander or strainer over a large bowl. Halve the eggplants lengthwise and use a large spoon to scrape out the flesh and scoop it into the colander or strainer. Throw away the skins.
5. Mash the eggplant flesh with a spoon to help release the liquid until the liquid has nearly stopped dripping, about 3 minutes. Discard the liquid in the bowl and add the drained flesh to the now-empty bowl.
6. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve right away or cover and refrigerate up to 4 days.

Or You Could...

  • Make it Italian: eliminate yogurt, substitute parsley for mint, and add 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Make it Spanish: eliminate yogurt, decrease lemon juice to 2 teaspoons, substitute parsley for mint, and add 1/2 cup finely chopped roasted red peppers and 1 teaspoon each paprika and ground coriander.

Adam Ried was a longtime editor at Cook’s Illustrated magazine and for twelve years the food columnist for The Boston Globe Magazine. He is also the author of two cookbooks and co-author of a third and is an original cast member and kitchen equipment specialist on two currently running PBS cooking shows, America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country. Starting with our fall 2019 issue, Adam (who already creates our Quench recipes) will write a regular column for Seasoned focusing on imaginative uses for ingredients you already have in your pantry or freezer.