I’ve got to be honest here for just a minute.
I used to hate cooking eggplant. No — that doesn’t doesn’t quite encompass my feelings properly — I desperately loathed cooking eggplant. For a gal that unfailingly chooses eggplant parm over the feathered variety every time, scoops up gobs of baba ganoush on pita like it’s her last ration on planet Earth, and gobbles an embarrassing amount of marinated slices off a shared antipasti plate – this just didn’t make sense. At the markets in the late Augusts of Summers gone by, I would quickly two-step right past the eggplant stand and do-si-do instead over to the stacked pyramids of sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes. Each time, James would pick up a giant purple orb, look over with hopefully shrugged shoulders, and say, “Hey – you think we should do eggplant tonight? I LOVE eggplant!” My answer never varied.
“Ehsshhh….I don’t know. Let’s just get some asparagus or something instead. Or these zucchini look good I think. Eggplant is annoying to cook.”
I was a master eggplant deflector; a few times I think I even resorted to fibbing that I really didn’t care for it all that much. I’d say anything to avoid lugging those giant suckers home and spend the evening dealing with all of their insecurities after a long day at the office.
So after I slice it up….should I salt it first? And then drain it? This recipe doesn’t call for salting or draining but this one does! But won’t it be bitter? Should I pick a bigger one or a smaller one? And there are so many kinds! Japanese, Chinese, Italian…. These are the kinds of things that were keeping me up at night. For as much as I love eggplant, we have all suffered through a soggy, bitter, oil-laden slice; when the sauce sheets off, pools on your plate, and leaves you with a wobbly mushy mess, choking it down is about as appealing as cranking your pinkie toe back on that dang corner of the bed frame that sticks out just a wee bit too far. Not. Fun.
After a few years of constantly passing by the glossy aubergines and suffering eggplant-anxiety whenever my patient but persistent fiance would ask me if I, in fact, was aware of just how much he loved eating eggplant – I finally decided to face my nemesis. To say confronting my fears changed my life would admittedly be a bit dramatic – but seriously! What had been wrong with me?! Especially now that we are in the throes of its peak season, eggplant is firmly entrenched into our top ten weeknight side dishes, in one iteration or another.
This is my current late summer standout: Fat slices of eggplant are roasted simply with some good olive oil and a healthy dusting of sea salt and fresh pepper. While they roast, a yogurt sauce is whipped up with plenty of fresh mint, spicy sharp garlic, and bright-tart lime juice. The fresh sauce gives a creamy cool contrast to the plush warm eggplant, and since the sauce is made with yogurt -you’ve added some great protein without much fat. Have it as a side dish with grilled fish or alongside a green salad, and be prepared to levitate straight off your chair – this is so simple, but so, so, good.
Roasted Eggplant with Minted Yogurt Sauce
Serves 4, as a side dish
I tend to choose eggplants that are on the medium to small side; I find them to be less bitter and easier to manage while cooking. When choosing one, make sure the skin is firm and shiny, that it feels relatively heavy for its size, and that the leaves are not wilted (wilted leave = old eggplant = blech).
I like to roast veggies at a high temperature (usually 400-425F) – it helps to brown them before they become overcooked, and a golden color means a delicious flavor. Roasting the eggplant on racks helps the heat circulate around them evenly and keeps them from absorbing any liquid or oil that would normally collect on the bottom of the baking sheet.
2 medium sized Italian eggplant (or another plump-shaped medium variety)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
fresh cracked pepper
1 six ounce container Greek yogurt (I like Fage 2%*)
small handful fresh mint (about ¼ cup), minced
1 small clove garlic (or ½ large clove), minced
juice of one lime
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a large baking sheet with foil, and place a large wire cooling rack on top of the foil.
Slice the eggplant into ‘planks’ that are of equal thickness, about ½” each. Place the slices into a large bowl, and drizzle evenly with the olive oil. Toss to coat each slice evenly, working quickly to ensure that one slice doesn’t absorb more oil than another (this will help avoid soggy spots). Season generously with sea salt and pepper, and space the slices out evenly on the racks.
Roast the eggplant for 15-20 minutes, turning once halfway through, until the slices are browned evenly and tender throughout when pricked with a fork. While the eggplant roasts, make the yogurt sauce. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, minced garlic, and minced mint with a fork. Gently stir in the lime juice, season to taste with salt, and set to the side to let the flavors marry.
When the eggplant is tender and browned, remove it from the oven and top it with a generous dollop of the yogurt sauce. The eggplant is delicious straight-away, hot from the oven, but is also great room temperature (just remember to keep the sauce refrigerated if you do not plan on eating it right away). Perfection!
*I like the extra creaminess in the 2% over the 0% fat yogurt here, however you can swap in the 0% and it will still be delish.