It is said that there are over 100 recipes for eggplants in Turkish cuisine. I am not sure if that’s true or not, but what I can tell you is that the eggplant, in all its shapes and sizes, is an essential ingredient in global cuisines from Calcutta to New Orleans.
To me, the eggplant is like the queen of the summer vegetables: With its shiny purple skin like a cloak, and bright green stem like a crown, there’s something distinctly royal about it. Summer would not be summer without mounds of eggplants ready to transform into delectable dishes.
Its mild flesh turns creamy when cooked and is a terrific base for sauces, dips, and soups. It can be roasted, becoming a vessel for savory toppings, or grilled, turning sweet and smoky with a depth of flavor enhanced by the charred skin. I also adore eggplants stuffed with ground lamb, or charred and drizzled with yogurt-based sauces. When I can find the smaller ones, about the size of the palm of my hand, I simply bake them in the oven and serve them with a variety of garnishes as I would baked potatoes.
Terrines and summer casseroles are some of the season’s best easy entertaining dishes, usually featuring eggplants working together with co-conspirators tomato and zucchini. I often use slices of eggplant instead of pasta as a layer in lasagna—a la moussaka—and to make large batches of ratatouille at the end of the summer.
In the market, look for unblemished, small to medium eggplants that are firm to the touch, with a bright green “crown.” I find the large ones to be a bit more bitter. They keep in the fridge for 3 or 4 days. When you slice them, look for ivory flesh with no or few darker brown spots. You can soak them in a salted water bath before using them to remove some of their tartness.
The three eggplant recipes I am sharing here are some of my favorites. First, simply roasted eggplant with diced tomato and mint, infused with garlicky oil and brightened with the unexpected tang of vinegar, is a beautiful dish for a summer dinner. Eggplant gratin is an elegant and sophisticated option, as most gratins are, and perfect for a mid-week supper. Lastly, berenjenas fritas con miel, fried eggplant strips drizzled with honey, are a traditional Spanish tapa that I often serve as a first course, as it needs to be cooked and served right away.
Victoria de la Maza is an award-winning cookbook author, columnist, and international TV host. Passionate about great food, she combines American traditions with her European heritage to create classic-with-a-twist recipes and ideas for stylish entertaining at home.