Yet again, the largess of my CSA has drawn a recipe out of me. I love, love, love eggplant, but I rarely find myself buying the big boys. At the summer greenmarket, I fill my tote bag with slim Japanese eggplants, taut and tiny Italian eggplants, pale they-really-look-like-eggs white eggplant, and especially those adorable, doll-sized Fairytale eggplants. Once they’re home I halve them and roast them up, hot and quick. Tossed with Italian-driven flavors (capers, olive oil, flat-leaf parsley,) the little nightshade fruits are reliably delightful.
Crazy as it sounds, eggplant is not just a fruit—it is in fact botanically classified as a berry (yes I just looked his up). Probably hauled back from Asia along with noodles, eggplants have settled comfortably into Italy’s kitchens along with their nightshade cousin, the tomato. I’ll get back to the eating/cooking bit in a moment, but to unpack this berry thing, nightshade fruits are berries because they develop from a single ovary. If voluptuous summer tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are any indication, nightshade plants have pretty tantalizing sex lives.
My alluring, deeply-aubergine CSA eggplant was calling out to me the minute I put it on my countertop (like their cousins, the tomatoes, they’re happier not being refrigerated even if they don't last as long.) With the more sizable, meaty eggplant varieties, I love to grill them, but while I was contemplating lunch yesterday morning, rain was falling in sheets. So I settled on roasting. I wanted to get a bit of skin with every bite, so I sliced the eggplant into wedges. That way, every bite is held together with some of the satisfying, purple peel. And to break out of my Italian-inspired eggplant holding pattern, I looked to Asia for change.
When I was growing up, every time we went out in Chinatown, my mother would ask right away for a bowl of hot sauce and a bowl of ginger sauce. Everything tasted better after it was dunked in one of those sauces. The ginger sauce in particular was my favorite - pungent, bright, oniony from scallions. Riffing on that memory, I whisked up a dressing for my roasted eggplant. Super sweet cherry tomatoes (to keep it in the family) also made an appearance, and added a nice juiciness to the richness of the eggplant. My Thai basil plant is blooming, so I trimmed her down and scattered some torn leaves and plucked flowers over everything to finish.
And just as the skies cleared, my gorgeous plate of summer berries (?!?!?!) was ready.
Roasted Eggplant Salad with Asian Ginger Sauce
Serves 2 ardent eggplant lovers or 4 regular people
1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), sliced into wedges
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup peanut oil
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons grated gingerroot
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon Asian (toasted) sesame oil
Few drops rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar, to taste
Few drops chile oil, optional
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
Basil leaves or cilantro leaves, to taste
1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, toss eggplant wedges with olive oil and salt to coat. Spread eggplant out on a baking sheet and roast, stirring once, until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the peanut oil, scallions, grated ginger, minced garlic, sesame oil, vinegar, and chile oil if using.
3. Toss the roasted eggplant and cherry tomatoes with the peanut oil dressing. Finish with torn basil leaves or cilantro leaves.