I love eggplant, and this time of year the markets are overflowing with many varieties. Eggplant can be tricky to cook properly, because if it’s not cooked all the way through it’s got an unpleasant texture (well I find it unpleasant, anyway). I typically dice or slice it and then fry it in olive oil until its golden and soft, but I was looking for something new to do. I saw this article over at the NY Times, which casually mentioned charring eggplants over a burner for a Turkish-style eggplant salad. I remembered that the Turkish-run falafel place I used to frequent made eggplant spread this way; they would pile up eggplants onto their grill, and cook them until blistered and black. Well I don’t have a grill, but I do have a gas stove top, so I decided to go for it. I used three medium-small eggplants, and one at a time placed them over high heat burners. It didn’t take long for them to start charring, and I used tongs to move and turn the eggplants to make sure they cooked evenly. A few times the steam building up inside the eggplants broke through the skin and some liquid bubbled out, but for the most part it went very well.
Once the eggplants were thoroughly charred, I removed them from the burner and used a knife to cut off the stem end. I slit them up the side, and attempted to scrape the eggplant flesh away from the skin. (Can you tell I’ve been watching a lot of the “Hannibal” television program?) I used a fork to hold the skin and a knife to scrape the flesh away. I left a few bits of the blackened skin in with the flesh, for two reasons. One, the skin helps boost the smoky flavor. Two, it’s REALLY HARD to get all of those bits of eggplant skin out of there, and so I just gave up after a point. I mixed the eggplant with the juice of a lemon, a pinch of salt, and lots of black pepper. I mashed it all together with my potato masher, so that it was still a little coarse.
I used about half of the mix as a spread on top of some crusty olive bread, which was great. But that’s not all you can do with the charred eggplant spread. I had covered the remaining spread with plastic wrap in the fridge, so the next day I used it as a pasta sauce (mixed with some tomato). It was fantastic — the smoky flavor of the eggplant, the acidity of the lemon, and the spiciness of the pepper were all great additions to the sauce. So if you have a gas stove, go ahead and pop an eggplant right on there. Not sure if an electric burner would have the same effect.