Midsummer mania: It's time for the eggplant's turn in the spotlight
Among summertime's signature vegetables, eggplant sometimes seems like it doesn't get its fair share of attention. Tomatoes are the seasonal superstars, filling farmers' market stalls with all their many-shaped, multicolored variety. Zucchini can dominate through sheer numbers, especially if you grow them yourself. And then there's sweet corn, the outdoor favorite at picnics and barbecues.
But eggplant? With its glossy, purple-black skin and a texture and flavor that are unpalatable when raw, it seems to hang back while its more popular summer companions make friends so easily. Eggplant needs more coaxing to showcase how wonderful it can actually be. When sauteed, grilled, roasted or broiled, its flavor turns amazingly rich and satisfying, almost meaty, and the texture becomes luxuriously soft, smooth and silky.
There are so many ways to showcase those delicious qualities:
--Combine eggplant with chunks of tomato, zucchini and onion, along with garlic and fresh herbs in the signature French vegetable stew called ratatouille.
--Slice the eggplant, slick with oil, and grill it as an easy side for summertime cookouts.
--Grill or broil eggplant whole until the skin blackens and the inside turns tender; then, scoop out the smoky-tasting pulp and whip it with tahini (sesame paste), garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, cumin, salt and parsley to make the superb Middle Eastern dip known as baba ganoush.
--Give the vegetable a try in a Southeast Asian main dish like my sauteed shrimp with Thai-spiced eggplant and Thai red curry sauce.
Having originated in Asia, eggplant is a staple in Thai kitchens, and in the following recipe it's combined with aromatic seasonings to form a luxurious backdrop for quickly cooked seafood.
With the widespread popularity of Thai cooking today, you may be surprised by how easy it is to find all the ingredients. Many produce departments now include fresh lemongrass, Thai basil, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal -- a cousin to ginger; and Asian food aisles often feature bottles of Thai red curry paste and the salty, fermented seasoning called fish sauce. Even more conveniently, you can also buy them all online.
Once you've assembled all the ingredients, the recipe proceeds very quickly, with each of the three main elements -- the sauce, the eggplant and the sauteed shrimp -- fairly simple to prepare.