I’m an eggplant lover. I could eat eggplants every day in any way. But not everyone feels like me. If you just plain don’t like the flavor of eggplant, then this cooking strategy is not for you. My husband was pretty sure he did not appreciate the eggplant until I tweaked my cooking technique. I had tried grilling and roasting eggplant slices with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Nothing seemed to entice. Scott complained that my beloved eggplant was slimy and gross – certainly a specific and legitimate gripe. After five or six years of trying to sneak eggplant into various dishes without success, I remembered that Scott also doesn’t like cooked mushrooms, zuchinni or summer squashes. I began to see a pattern. Texture. I’m not sure what inspired me this summer – perhaps an overabundance of squash and eggplants. But I became determined to find a way for Scott (and others) to enjoy these popular farmer’s market fruits (they have seeds, so they must be fruits, right?).
Last year I learned that Scott would eat zuchinni if I grated and sauteed them with olive oil and garlic. The zuchinni becomes not quite crunchy, but it definitely isn’t slimy. Plus the garlic and olive oil are so delectable that you can’t help eating a whole zuchinni by yourself. We also like zuchini and summer squash in bread – adding sugar, butter and flour makes everything better. But eggplant chocolate chip bread just doesn’t sound very good. And grating, salting, rinsing, drying, sauting is kind of a big pain in the ass. Not for every night and the quantity of eggplant and squash I have to deal with every week. So I was back to the drawing board.
I’m a big fan of roasting – even in the summer heat. It’s so easy to turn on the oven, prep vegetables (and chickens for that matter) in big chunks on an oiled pan and let them get sweet, crusty and tender while I have a glass of wine and listen to NPR. I mean, you don’t even have to turn them or anything. Sometimes, if I have a particularly dry mouth, just to promote salivation, I open the oven door and pretend to loosen the vegetables from the bottom of the pan with a flick of my wrist (and a potholder). But it’s not like the recipe is ruined if I just enjoy that wine and leave the oven alone. So, roasting was appealing. Another eggplant bonus: you can roast them without peeling, chopping or any other time-consuming preparations. Just prick the skins with a fork. Four or five pokes is probably enough. The purpose of forking is to release the steam produced inside the eggplant so that it doesn’t explode inside your oven. I kind of enjoy this violent, stress-relieving, puncture-fest and sometimes get a little crazy with the pitch fork, I mean dinner fork.
I decided that if Scott didn’t enjoy the roasted eggplant and yellow squash, I would. I loaded up the oven and after 45 minutes I experienced divine, epicurean inspiration. Use the advantage of the slimy, gross texture of roasted food for good, not evil. I decided to improvise on baba ganoush and make a dip – food that is supposed to be slimy and gross.
I keep my food processor on the counter. I use it a lot. It would be silly to put it away. So I cut open the eggplant, spooned out the flesh, scraped all the olive oily, seasoned squash (yeah, I know they’re fruits, we’ve been through that, but it just doesn’t seem right) into the food processor and whirled away. I added several cloves of garlic and a little more olive oil to thin the puree. The sweetness of the squash balanced the raw garlic and meaty, smoky flavor of the eggplant. I added a bit more salt and pepper, tried not to eat all of it right then and chilled the “dip” for the real test.
Scott loved it. Texture problem solved. Flavor: complex and savory. Now we have this every week with spelt pretzels, pita bread crisps, carrots or as a sandwich spread. Sometimes I add an onion to the squash for more flavor. Once I added a can of garbanzo beans for a little protein. Both variations worked and got rave reviews.
Here’s the recipe in short form
1 medium eggplant
1 summer squash
2-3 cloves garlic
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Olive Oil spray
salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 450 (475 above 5,000 feet). Wash and dry produce. Spray baking tray, cookie sheet or something flat and metal that you use in the oven, with olive oil spray. Use fork to puncture skin of eggplant and put on tray. Cut squash into large chunks – two inch thick rounds are fine. Add to tray. Spray squash with more olive oil spray and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes. Check on squash. It may be done! Scrape it off the pan into your food processor or blender. Put the eggplant back in the oven and continue baking until it has collapsed from the heat (probably another 15 minutes). Slice open the eggplant skin and don’t get steamed. Spoon or fork the flesh into the processor. Toss as much raw garlic as you can stand and the olive oil into the mix. Whir until smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper if it’s needed. Good warm on toasted pita triangles or cold on anything else.