JeanMarie Brownson, Dinner at Home
For decades my Saturday plans have revolved around attending a local farmers market. From heirloom tomatoes to farm-fresh eggs and perfect peaches, the overflowing stands make my heart beat faster.
I am a serious shopper, though, and not inclined to chitchat in the aisles while someone else nabs the last of the fresh basil.
I frown upon the leisurely window-shoppers blocking the path to the plump eggplants, skinny green beans and quarter-size pattypan squash. My mind swirls with ideas and ambition, and all that thinking often leads to overbuying, which is why I make the kids come and carry the bags.
A few summers ago, we drove out of our way to hit the little market on the main drag in Mount Vernon, Iowa. In addition to Armenian cucumbers and freshly baked kolaches, they had more than six varieties of eggplant. My brain went into overtime about how I would cook them, particularly with a method that prevented the bitter, slimy eggplant of my early cooking years.
During inclement weather, we employ high-heat sauteing for tender, flavorful eggplant. But in the summer, we turn to the grill. Smoke and eggplant pair fabulously, especially on a charcoal grill stacked with natural hardwood charcoal. (For a gas grill, produce smoke with a foil pouch of soaked wood chips.)
Along with imparting excellent flavor, grilling eggplant requires far less oil than sauteing. I use a spritzer bottle filled with olive oil to lightly coat it on all sides. After spritzing, you can season the eggplant well with your favorite grill rub or just salt and pepper.
A spicy Japanese chili spice, shichimi togarashi tastes great when the eggplant is destined for an Asian-inspired meal. Chipotle chili powder and smoked paprika are fine options for a Latin flare. Just add a little salt as well.
Long, pale Japanese eggplants, plump white ovals, miniature purple varieties labeled "baby" and ordinary dark purple specimens all do well on the grill. You'll want to halve and skewer the golf-ball size green globes that are commonly used in Thai curries. A bonus: Grilled eggplant tastes just as good at room temperature, or cold, as it does warm. Because of that, we fill the grill and make extra to enjoy all week long.
Grilled eggplant can be finely chopped and used as the base for the Lebanese dip known as baba ghanoush. Or, try it diced and add it to tomato sauce for a hearty pasta sauce. I love it mixed with red chili salsa as the filling for an omelet or seasoned with store-bought curry paste for an easy, meatless main course. My favorite way to eat a warm grilled eggplant slice may be in a BLT variation on a Saturday afternoon.