Eggplants… they make us think of warmer, happier places, singing nightingales, Arabian Nights, and the Pleasuredome of Kubla Khan.
You didn’t really think I meant that, did you? In actuality, they make us think of no such things. In fact, in my experience (and this might or might not apply to the international-minded foodies following this site), eggplants are much maligned in this country, especially as their texture can be somewhat off-putting to Americans whose palate has been conditioned to expect crunch.
But, truth be told, eggplants don’t have a whole lot of flavor of their own, and, in unskilled hands, they can taste as bad as dirty wash water. They are, however, a perfect vehicle for carrying other flavors, and can be great when cooked with the addition of bold-tasting things (such as garlic, for instance), as well lots of some fat to lube everything up. When one or both of those conditions are met, magic is born.
Magic like this.
This here is my favorite way to prepare eggplants – a classic Azerbaijani sauteed eggplant-mayo-garlic combo, re-imagined here as bruschetta topping.
I found these lilac-colored locally-grown beauties at our local food cooperative. I think they made a stunning subject for my photospread.
Sunflower oil… (use any other kind if you don’t have any of this).
Pour it into a cast iron skillet…
…add the slices when the oil is sizzling, and cook them over medium-high heat until they are nicely browned on both sides (a small pair of kitchen tongs works really good for flipping these). They’ll keep sucking up the oil as they cook, so keep adding more. Alternatively, consider roasting them in the oven as shown by Farida of my beloved AZ Cookbook site where she prepares a rather elegant variation on the theme.
Transfer to a bowl…
Press some garlic on top… Press, not mince.
All proportions to taste.
Here I decided to go ahead and add a tad more mayo…
Now stir it all up…
This is good either warm, fresh from the pan, or chilled in the fridge for a bit (the latter allows for the further melding of flavors), spread on top of plain, untoasted bread. As such, it works great as appetizer or lunch.
Important Note: Back in the Old Country (and perhaps also in this one), it is customary to soak eggplant slices in salt water for a couple of hours prior to cooking to rid them of their bitterish taste. If you wish to do so, place the slices in a bowl filled with cold, very salty water, and weigh them down with a plate or something like that to prevent them from floating to the top (and float to the top they will). Then drain, dry, and proceed as above.
Important Note about Sofya: Personally, I skip this step – I actually very much enjoy a touch of bitterness – I think it blends nicely with the garlic and the brown crust that results from sauteing, and it is also the kind of extra step I came to this country to avoid. Your choice.