Eggplant, to my eyes, are some of the the most beautiful plants in gardens and produce bins. I love their lovely shades of purple, white and black. And the striped and speckled eggplant? Ooh la la!
But cooking with them – that’s another issue. Especially for those of us who don’t want to consume a gallon of olive oil. I realize olive oil is loaded with antioxidants and wonderful “heart smart” properties, but a calorie is still a calorie. Most eggplant lovers know, only too well, that eggplants are heavy drinkers – of oil, that is. I conducted a bit of very unofficial Googling research to see why this was so.
The blog www.arabist.net says, “According to Marie-Christine Daunay, who is in charge of eggplant studies at the French agronomic research institute INRA, eggplant is somewhat of a mystery even to those who work with it daily. But at least we know a little about its propensity to drink. It is due partly to the spongy texture, of course, but Daunay tells me that the eggplant also contains compounds called saponins ‘that have a natural affinity for lipids.’ They love fat, in other words, and work as hard as they can to soak up as much of it as possible.”
I’ve been under the impression that salting eggplant prior to cooking lessens the eggplant’s oil absorption as well as minimizes any bitter flavors. I haven’t conducted any testing to confirm this hypothesis, but from my experiences, the long thin Asian varieties are not bitter and cook very quickly, thus require less oil. I generally salt the larger globe eggplant because I like the flavor, the salt mitigates any bitterness, and the slices seem to absorb less oil. If sodium is a concern, I wouldn’t salt.
Grilling eggplant slices is another way to minimize oil input. I simply brush oil on the eggplant slices as they grill and when they are tender, they are delicious and not so oil saturated. In this recipe, I cook them quickly and then let them finish cooking in the tomato sauce.
And about that basil: my garden basil is obviously on the way out. Witness the blackening on the outer edges! I’ll harvest whatever remains outside tomorrow.