This is weird, but every time I see eggplant I think of that old 1980’s Nintendo game Kid Icarus. My siblings and I used to play that for hours. There’s a part in that game where you’re in a dungeon and you come across an eggplant-throwing monster. You have to dodge the flying purple eggplants as you pass through the room and if you get hit by one you turn into a giant eggplant with feet. I think that game was actually where I first found out about eggplants. Strange, I know. A little sad? Perhaps.
It wasn’t until many years later that I ate an eggplant; and I have to say, I wasn’t that impressed. It was bland, mushy, and bitter. No good. Another handful of years later I watched the movie Ratattouille and had to make that dish. I found a recipe just like the one in the movie, and my view on eggplant was forever changed. There are ways you can decrease the bitterness and improve the texture so you’re not left with a mouthful of mushy, seedy, tough-skinned eggplant. Tricks, I got tricks y’all.
The main trick to reducing the amount of seeds is to choose a smaller size of eggplant and a variety that has fewer seeds to begin with. I choose small (3 – 5 inch) eggplant and prefer the Japanese and graffiti/zebra varieties due to their thin skin and velvety flesh. They also cook quicker — always a bonus during busy nights. The other trick I use is for reducing the bitter, astringent quality eggplant can have: salt it. Salting the eggplant and letting it sit pulls out the bitter juices, which is particularly noticeable in the larger sizes. It also gives you a jump start on seasoning the veg and a jump start on cooking it as it will take less time because the moisture is already pulled out — and this makes it more friendly to high-heat cooking methods, such as grilling, frying or charring (like in this recipe). I’ve noticed, too, that salting helps with the texture; you’re left with a creamier, more velvety flesh as opposed to mushy, soggy, or stringy. Tricks…make treats; pretty, delicious eggplant treats.
Salt the flesh side then flip over to drain.
All that moisture is released. Pat dry.
Balsamic reflections, basil on the window sill.
Add maple syrup and a teaspoon or two of Sambal Oelek (garlic-chili paste) for a spicy kick to the sweet syrup. Boil, then simmer until reduced by half.
Toasted sunflower seeds: toast in a dry pan for 5 – 7 minutes.
Heat oil on medium-high, lay eggplant cut-side down to char.
Awww, look at that eggplant. Charred and lovely.
Let cook on the skin side for a couple minutes, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and maple balsamic syrup.
Add toasted sunflower seeds and shredded basil.
This recipe has been submitted to the Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck.
Charred Eggplant with Maple Balsamic Syrup
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
handful basil leaves, shredded
Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise and place cut side up on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Salt the flesh side of the eggplant by sprinkling a hefty pinch of salt for every 2 – 3 pieces. Flip the eggplant over and let sit and drain for 30 minutes. Transfer to a clean towel and pat dry.
Meanwhile, add the balsamic syrup ingredients (see below) to a small pot and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half (about 20 – 25 minutes).
Heat a dry pan over medium heat. Add sunflower seeds and toast until browned, stirring occasionally, about 5 – 7 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. Wipe out the pan and use for cooking the eggplant.
Working in batches, heat 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, place eggplant flesh-side down in the pan and cook for 3 – 5 minutes, until flesh is charred. Flip over and cook an additional 1 – 2 minutes. Remove eggplant to a plate or platter and continue working in batches until all eggplant is cooked. Season eggplant with a pinch of salt and pepper, drizzle with the balsamic syrup, and sprinkle the toasted sunflower seeds and basil on top. Enjoy!
Maple Balsamic Syrup (makes 1/2 cup)
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup maple syrup (I use grade B)
1 – 2 teaspoons sambal oelek (garlic chili paste)