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How to Nuke an Eggplant

Eggplant after microwaving

After microwaving 10 minutes, the eggplant has collapsed

Eggplant is one of those warm-climate foods. It’s big, cheap, and plentiful, it goes with everything from garlicky oregano-and-fennel laden tomato sauce to nutmeg-tinged custard or cumin/cinnamon-scented Greek and North African dishes, to curries and darkly soy-glazed Chinese and Thai dishes. You can deep-fry it, panfry it, grill it and serve it room-temperature under a glossy layer of olive oil, marinate it, wrap it around other fillings, stuff it, roast it, make spreads with it… There’s even a Greek eggplant “spoon sweet” and at least one eggplant “jam” from Morocco. To say nothing of pink-tinged sour eggplant pickles, one of my favorite additions at the Israeli felafel stands.

The only thing you don’t really want to do with eggplant is eat it raw.

I NEVER bother with the usual cookbook directions for eggplant. All of them slavishly recopy instructions from their predecessors–salt it, drain it, fry it in tons of expensive olive oil, which it will soak up mercilessly, bake it for an hour only to find it still has spongy raw spots… They never bother to update, or even retest, the traditional assumptions that make eggplant such a pain.

You can forget most of that if you just nuke your eggplants first. Most of the stuff people do to their eggplants comes of just trying to get it cooked through. The salt’s to get rid of some of the water; the fat’s to cook it hotter and let the juices steam inside the slices.

Microwaving takes care of both, needs neither fat nor salt, and it’s very quick–10 minutes on HIGH on a pyrex pie plate for 1 or 2 decent-sized eggplants and you’ve got either collapsed whole eggplant(s) ready for baba ghanouj or a fan of slices or a mountain of bite-sized cubes. All of them cooked through and ready to do something more interesting with.

I used to think I was alone in the wilderness on this one, because NO ethnic cookbook–or any other cookbook with eggplant recipes–ever considers the existence of microwaving, much less condones it for cooking actual food. But an Indian friend says home cooks there have been nuking their eggplants for decades now. So I feel vindicated.

Just wash and stem the eggplant, then either leave it whole for pulp or cut it into whatever kind of slices you want-crosswise rounds, lengthwise slices for wrapping around ricotta or other fillings, cubes, wedges-whatever. If your recipe calls for other roasted or grilled vegetables, you could slice and layer them with the eggplant and microwave them all together before finishing under a broiler or in a frying pan for a few minutes. Put the pieces on a large Pyrex or other microwaveable dish-pie plate, mixing bowl, casserole, whatever works for you. Nuke them uncovered 10 minutes for 1-2 eggplants.

Once they’re cooked, you can do what you want with them: Lay them out on oiled foil and broil them, heat a little garlic and curry powder and/or other spices in a spoonful or so of olive oil and stir-fry the cooked cubes of eggplant to brown and flavor them, whatever your recipe calls for.

Microwave times, unlike conventional baking times, increase with the quantity of food in the oven. As long as you’re only cooking a batch of one or two eggplants, nuking for 10 minutes is more efficient than baking in a conventional oven for an hour. If you’re cooking 10 or more eggplants at a time, the time and quantity–even assuming you could fit them all into your microwave–will add up enough to make baking them all at once in a regular oven the better bet.

So anyway, here we go. First we’re going to nuke a whole eggplant or so for spreads, then we’ll take a look at setting up dishes that call for frying or grilling cubes or slices. The results are a lot more reliable than the traditional, and they taste just as good, but without all the waiting.

Update [6/5/10]–I’ve finally posted a demonstration of how to squeeze out the pulp from a whole microwaved eggplant in one go. Once you get the hang of it, it’s more efficient and a lot quicker than trying to peel with a spoon or fork.

Whole Microwaved Eggplant(s) for Pulp– Baba Ghanouj etc.

  • 1-2 medium or large eggplants
  • table salt (optional)
  • Pyrex pie plate

Scrub the eggplants well and cut off the caps–watch out for thorns, they’re hard to see but really nasty. Sprinkle salt on the outside of the still-damp eggplants and the sliced end if you want–it toughens the skin a bit and makes it easier to scoop or squeeze the pulp out afterward. OR just peel the eggplants before nuking so you don’t have all the mess and bother afterward. Microwave uncovered 10 minutes on HIGH (1100 W or higher oven). Eggplants with the skin on should collapse and soften, and the skin will be wrinkled and saggy in places. Peeled eggplants should be fairly soft and show a “bruise” when you press them with a finger or a spoon. Let cool in a colander over a bowl so that some of the thick light brown juice drains out before you scoop or mash them.

Baba Ghanouj with Microwaved Eggplant

Baba Ghanouj

  • Pulp from 1-2 medium-large eggplants
  • 2-3 heaping tablespoons tehina (pure ground sesame paste), or more according to taste, desired creaminess, and ambitions for waistline–if you want it less fatty, use less tehina or none and sub in 1/2 t Chinese toasted sesame oil
  • juice of 1-2 lemons
  • 1-2 big cloves of garlic, mashed or finely grated
  • 1/2-1 teaspoons ground cumin
  • large dollop of plain non- or low-fat yogurt, optional
  • 2-3 drops liquid smoke, optional, or 1/4 t ground caraway
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro leaves, optional
  • salt to taste, optional–shouldn’t need much if any, especially if you use yogurt. Try without salt first.

Puree or hand-chop the cooked eggplant pulp with the other ingredients to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature with raw dipping vegetables (carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli and cauliflower) or toasted pita (but best of all on fresh home-made pita). Leftover baba ghanouj is also great stirred into hot whole-wheat spaghetti or fettucine as a kind of eggplant sesame noodles.

Microwaved eggplant slices

Quick Grilled Sliced Eggplant

Wash and stem the eggplant, then cut it into whatever kind of slices you want, microwave uncovered 10 minutes for 1-2 eggplants. Oil lightly and put slices in a toaster oven or under a broiler to grill the outsides, or brown lightly in a spoonful of olive oil with garlic and curry powder in a teflon-lined frying pan. If you sliced it lengthwise, you can wrap the grilled slices around rectangles of feta with basil leaves or dollops of herbed ricotta, and serve with marinara (sprinkle some fennel seeds into it).

Roasted Eggplant, Red Pepper, and Onion Appetizer (or sandwich filling…)

  • 1-2 sliced eggplants (crosswise, rounds or half-moons, or bite-sized cubes, as you prefer)
  • 1-2 sweet red peppers in bite-sized pieces or long thin slivers, as you prefer
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and either diced or sliced into quarter-inch or thinner wedges
  • big fat clove or so of garlic, mashed or grated, in 2-3 tablespoons or so extra-virgin olive oil
  • pinch or more dry or fresh thyme

Layer or alternate the vegetable slices so that eggplants, peppers, and onions are all mixed together. Nuke for 10 minutes. Pour over the olive oil, garlic, and thyme, stir or distribute. If you want to, pan fry or or grill the mixture briefly to color, or roast for 15-20 minutes in a hot (~400 F) oven. Cool and chill in the fridge. This gets better, more mellow, after a day, and it lasts well over a week if you keep it refrigerated and closely wrapped (not in foil!) with the air squeezed out. It doesn’t need salt but pairs well in hearty sandwiches with feta, hummus, or gorgonzola-type cheeses.

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