Options for the Reluctant Vegetarian – That Purple Thing

“Meghan, do you know what that purple thing is? It’s been in the refrigerator for a month, and neither your grandmother nor I know what to do with it,” said my father once when I was down for a visit.

The “purple thing” he referenced was an eggplant, and it happened that I did know what to do with it.

There are many things you can do with eggplant. This delightful food (which is technically a berry, but eaten like a vegetable) comes in many varieties, all of them similar in their handling and all of them delicious. Its chewy and satisfyingly substantial texture and weight also make it a dietary staple for many people, vegetarian and otherwise. Eggplant sticks with you.

To buy an eggplant, in any variety, you want a firm one. No mushy spots. The firmer the better.

If your eggplant is very firm, you don’t need to peel it if you don’t want to.

There are many things you can do with an eggplant, but today we’re going to focus on stir-fry. And we’re going to stir-fry it with some summer squash (any variety will do – today I have zucchini and some Asian squash I stumbled upon). Choose summer squash the same way you choose eggplant – the firmer the better, and you don’t have to peel it.

You will need:

1. Eggplant

2. Two small summer squashes (your choice).

3. Garlic

4. Salt and pepper

5. Olive Oil

6. Onion – optional

7. Basil or other seasoning – optional

8. Italian or French bread baguette, or pasta, or eggs. See below.

Chop off the stem end, and a sliver of the other end too (just get rid of the tiny button thingy).

If you’ve never stir-fried anything, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You put it in a frying pan, turn up the heat, and stir it until it’s cooked. The end. But in case you’ve never stir-fried anything in your life (I hadn’t when I moved to NYC post-college), I’ll walk you through it.

First you need to chop up the eggplant and other veggies. Trying to stir-fry a whole eggplant might make an interesting science experiment on heat transference, but I’m not in a hurry to try it. You may choose to cut your eggplant into wheels or slivers. Slivers cook faster. Also, the thinner you slice, the faster it will cook. The more consistently you slice (as in – all your slices are exactly 1/4″ thick, as opposed to random thicknesses), the more evenly your eggplant will cook. But don’t worry if you can’t get all your slices exactly the right size. It’ll still cook up just fine, you’ll just have some bites that are a little mushier than the others.

No biggie.

Also, don’t worry about the seeds.

After you have sliced up your eggplant (it’s totally cool to just cut up half of it, wrap the other half in plastic wrap, and stick it in the refrigerator), you may want to “sweat” it. This is an optional step. Simply lay out the pieces, salt one side, flip them all, salt the other side, and let them sit for 30 minutes. The salt will draw excess water out of the eggplant, and I hear it improves the taste, although I’ve totally cooked eggplant without salting and I’m not sure I noticed a difference. ONLY SWEAT THE EGGPLANT – no other veggie requires this treatment. While you are sweating the eggplant, chop up the other veggies. Same deal – wheels or wedges or slivers, your choice.

When you are ready to start cooking, add some olive oil to a frying pan, put the burner on medium heat, add the eggplant only, and start slowly stirring it. (You don’t have to stir every single second, but the stirring keeps the food from burning to the bottom of the pan, so don’t neglect it too long). We are cooking the eggplant and summer squash separately because they take different amounts of time. Add salt and pepper to taste. You should hear a satisfying sizzle if your pan heats up to the right temperature, but if you see smoke, it’s too hot. If it takes forever and a day to cook, it’s too cool.

As you stir, you will notice that your eggplant pieces turn a dismal greeny-grayish color. Do not be alarmed – your eggplant is just getting tastier.

When the pieces are greeny-gray all the way through and pretty floppy, they’re done.

Remove them from the pan onto a plate or something and put in the other vegetables, including the garlic. Again, stir slowly until the veggies have sort of changed color and become more floppy. I recommend tasting as you go because some people like their stir-fry crunchier than others. For summer squash, there’s no hard and fast rule for when it’s “done,” it’s just however you like it.

When the summer squash is satisfactory, add the eggplant back in and stir for a few minutes until everything is heated through. If you want to add fresh basil or other seasoning, now’s the time.

You now have some great stir-fry.

Which you can totally eat on its own.

Or, you can put it on bread (crusty Italian or French is my favorite) and eat as a sandwich.

Or, you can toss it with pasta and smother it in fresh-ground parmesan cheese, and you’d have my grandmother’s lauded Veggie Pasta recipe.

Or, you can scramble this mix up in some eggs for breakfast (it’s WONDERFUL).

More eggplant recipes to come eventually….



Filed under Reluctant Vegetarian, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Options for the Reluctant Vegetarian – That Purple Thing

  1. Ah! You darling woman! This is a fantastic recipe, thank you. 🙂

  2. Eggplants are wonderful. Are you a “reluctant vegetarian?” I must have missed that somewhere if you are.

    I largely agree with your sentiments towards eggplant…it’s the best natural meat substitue out there besides jack fruit, but they’re hard to find.

    Cooked eggplant needs little seasoning to bring out its natural flavor IMO. A little bit of salt, oil, and a few other spices is usually enough. Unlike other vegetables, its taste is good enough that the goal of an eggplant dish should be to compliment its flavor, not obscure it.

    A little bit of cheese is an easy way to make an eggplant dish wonderful.

    To eggplants!

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