Fall crops bring a whole new selection of fresh vegetables to spice up the kitchen. Our taste buds move from grilled peach salads and corn on the cob to winter squashes, stews and somewhat heavier, heartier dishes. Eggplant remains in season through September and October in Tennessee. ℹ️ Crabtree Farms, an urban farm in Chattanooga, grows eggplant along with other popular seasonal vegetables, then sells their ultra local produce to area restaurants where chefs like Kolby Carpenter of ℹ️ Flying Squirrel create dishes that evolve with the seasons. Versatile eggplant is delicious and easy with the help of a handy tip, offered below.
Eggplant, or aubergine, is also an excellent replacement for meat in most recipes when a vegetarian option is called for. Eggplant is famous for being “sneaky,” taking on flavors of whatever else is being cooked along with it. A highly nutritious vegetable, eggplant can be incorporated into tomato sauces and other dishes with strong flavors without making its own flavor statement. In other words: your kids won’t know it’s in there!
SALT, PRESS, DRAIN
If you hesitate to use eggplant because of its reputation for occasional bitterness, try this method that eliminates bitterness and increases tenderness to boot. Slice the eggplant, then place the slices in a single layer on a jelly roll pan or other flat pan with an edge. Salt the eggplant liberally then place another heavier pan directly on top of the eggplant. Salting triggers osmosis, which draws out moisture from the plant cells and carries any bitterness along with it. After about an hour, press out more water and salt by applying pressure to the pan on top of the eggplant. Pressing also forces some of the plant’s air cells to collapse, preventing the eggplant from absorbing as much oil if sauteed. Remove the slices from the tray and pat dry with a clean towel.
Flying Squirrel’s Executive Chef Kolby Carpenter offers an exotic take on eggplant. Ingredients like Indonesian sambal oelek (a hot sauce) and Aji Mirin (a Japanese rice wine) sound rare but are widely available.
1 large eggplant
1 cup hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp sambal oelek
1/4 cup scallions, sliced
1 large thumb of ginger, grated
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cup soda water
1/4 cup vodka
1/8 tsp salt
Eggplant: Peel and slice into 1/2 inch thick pieces, following salting and pressing steps to the left.
Tempura Batter: Mix flour, corn starch, baking powder, baking soda and salt, set aside. Then, mix soda water and vodka. Slowly whisk liquid mixture into dry mixture making sure to whisk until smooth. Let batter rest for about 20 minutes.
Sauce: Mix hoisin, soy sauce, mirin, sambal, scallions, ginger and garlic. Heat in a small sauce pan until a low simmer is reached. Take off heat and let steep for 10 minutes.
Cook Method: Mix 1 cup flour and 1 cup cornstarch into a small mixing bowl. Place pieces of eggplant into dry dredge and coat evenly, shake off excess dry mix. Then, drop into wet batter and allow to cover completely and evenly. Remove from batter allowing excess batter to drip off. Deep fry in oil at 350 degrees for about 4 minutes, or until eggplant is floating and lightly golden.
Place sauce on plate with eggplant on top, or put sauce in small bowl for dipping. Garnish with sliced scallions and sesame seeds.