Eggplant is one of those vegetables that I love when it’s cooked well, and really don’t care for under any other circumstances. To me, “good” eggplant should be almost meltingly soft, with no trace of toughness or bitterness. I have a few sure-fire methods of eggplant preparation, but up until now, they’ve all involved using the oven, and a very generous application of oil. Although I do regularly cook eggplant on the stovetop, it’s rarely quite as good: a few pieces here and there are always a little underdone. I’ve been trying to avoid using the oven for our standard weeknight dinners, reserving it for bigger weekend projects or baked goods. While this move has trimmed our energy bill, it’s also meant a bit less eggplant. Lately our market has had unbelievably good deals on Indian and Japanese eggplants, so when I saw this article on Food52 about using your microwave to cook perfect eggplant, I had to give it a go. As promised, the microwave method produced a soft, lucious eggplant, no lingering tough or chewy bits. My one complaint with the microwave route is that the exposed surface flesh of the eggplant was just a little too soft and moist: I want a soft interior, but a slightly drier exterior (maybe even with a few picturesque char marks). My solution was to add a quick second step, placing the cooked eggplant face down in a cast iron skillet for a few minutes to finish it off. Once I figured out this extra step, I was completly sold, and we’re now eating eggplant at least once a week.
To make this recipe as weeknight friendly as possible, we’ve been rotating between two super simple marinade mixes: one with a balsamic vinegar base, and a second ginger and soy concoction. Both marinades use a relatively short list of ingredients, all of which are pantry or fridge staples in our home. Update, 10/28/2013: I’ve added notes on a third marinade option with a tomato base. It makes a great side for curry dishes!
We use three small Italian, Chinese, or Japanese eggplants and cook them in a 6×10″ baking dish, because it’s the largest dish we have that will fit in our microwave. If you have a larger microwave, feel free to experiment with increasing the recipe volume–these eggplants are also tasty cold and will keep in the fridge for several days if needed.
You could probably also adjust the recipe to work with a larger eggplant: I would make sure to use a dish deep enough to completely hold the eggplant, and possible cut into quarters or sixths rather than halves. Update, 10/28/2013: You can indeed use regular eggplants. I’ve been using a single eggplant (~1 lb), slicing it in half long ways, and then slicing each half into 5-6 thick slices. No need for a deeper dish if you cut this way.
Twice cooked eggplant,
two three ways
Makes 3-6 servings
3 Indian, Chinese, or Japanese eggplants, tops removed and cut in half lengthwise
Marinades (choose one)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp oregano
1 clove garlic, minced
Ginger Soy marinade
1 tbsp peanut or coconut oil
1 tbsp soy sauce (for a gluten free version, be sure to use wheat free soy sauce)
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp oil (I use olive, but for a more neutral flavor you might prefer vegetable)
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp garam masala spice blend
1. Use a knife to cut a series of crosshatched slashes into the open flesh of each eggplant half.
2. Mix all marinade ingredients and pour into a microwave safe baking dish (I use a 6×10″). Place eggplant halves into the dish, flesh side down (update, 10/28/2013: if using a larger eggplant cut into slices, place the slices in the marinade, then flip them over so that both sides are coated. For the thicker masala marinade, you may find it easier to brush the marinade directly onto the eggplant, then place it in the dish). Allow to marinate for 10-30 minutes (if you can allow for longer marination, the dish will taste better, but you can still get good flavor in less time).
3. Drain any unabsorbed marinade off from the dish and reserve. Turn eggplant so that the flesh side is facing up. Slowly spoon reserved marinade over the top of each eggplant, the goal is to get it mostly into the slash marks, not running off into the dish.
4. Cover dish tightly with a microwave safe lid or plastic wrap. If using plastic wrap, poke 2-4 holes in the top.
5. Place dish in microwave and cook on maximum power for 10 minutes.
6. When eggplant is finished microwaving, heat a skillet to medium heat. Place eggplant, skin side down, in the skillet and cook for 2-4 minutes, until exposed flesh has begun to brown slightly. Remove from heat and serve.