Eggplant: the meat of vegetables, the Parmesan-crusted sandwich filler of Italian fame, the beige ingredient in that one Middle Eastern spread we can never remember the name of. When prepared well, we ask ourselves why we never consider eggplant a staple ingredient. But when done poorly, all earlier memory of said vegetable is automatically wiped from our brains.
Which is why my interest was piqued when I came across this culprit while shopping the other day. Big “Local” and “In Season” signs summoned me to the lonely shelf or purple in the produce section. “Really?” I asked myself, realizing I knew nothing about the seasonality of eggplant. I picked one up, took a good look at its dark purple hue, and placed it in my shopping basket. “Really?” I asked myself again. “Since when do you cook with eggplant?” Turns out I don’t, but after stroking my new oblong violet orb a few more times, I magically conjured up another relevant memory of an eggplant parmesan sandwich I consumed at Mike’s Deli in the Bronx — a sandwich that happened to be one of the best I have ever eaten, ever (I won’t mention how it also managed to shut down my entire digestive system for a day and a half). “Really.” I spoke with finality back to myself and headed to the check-out.
I wonder what I might have consumed for dinner last night had I not re-encountered the revered and detested eggplant that fateful fall afternoon. Yeah, probably another tortizza or some strange mash-up of whatever edible produce I managed to summon from the non-existent depths of my NYC-sized fridge. Eggplant — you are strange, wild, and wonderful, and I hope I never ignore your hidden pedestal between the kale and bok choy at the market ever again.
What’s the best eggplant dish you’ve ever cooked or eaten?
Roasted Eggplant and Chickpea Soup
Adapted from Martha
Makes ~4 servings
2 medium eggplants (the “regular,” deep purple variety), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
6 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt and ground pepper
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 cups vegetable broth or water
Toppings of your choice: plain yogurt, fresh oregano, or chopped tomato are good choices.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together eggplant, onion, garlic, and 4 teaspoons of the olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer in a roasting pan. In a bowl, toss chickpeas with remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Transfer to another small roasting pan or baking sheet. Roast until eggplant is golden and cooked through and chickpeas are slightly crunchy, about 35 minutes. Set chickpeas aside. Peel garlic and add to a medium pot, along with eggplant, onion, and broth. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium-high. With a potato masher or back of a wooden spoon, mash some eggplant until soup is thick and chunky. Stir in chickpeas and season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, top with yogurt, oregano, tomato, or whatever your heart desires.