E ggplant is one my favorites. It’s meaty character is perfect for grilling, baking, stuffing, braising, frying…or, in this case, roasting until crispy on the outside, and succulent on the inside. This summer berry has an affinity for strong flavors such as anchovy, garlic, cumin, chili, lamb, and olives. In the Middle East, it is often paired with sumac (not to be confused with poison sumac ), also a summer berry - what grows together, goes together! Sumac is quite an under-appreciated seasoning, if you ask me. Its tangy flavor offers balance to the intense, rather smoky, taste of roasted eggplant. Sumac is also fantastic on toasted sunflower seeds, mixed with yogurt as a sauce for perfectly grilled kebabs, and, along with some chopped fresh thyme, stirred into fresh farmer’s cheese (or cream cheese) and spread on lavash or crudités. Sumac is available in most ethnic stores, specialty food shops, and online. I urge you to seek out a bag of this purple-red powder immediately - its unusual, lemony flavor will have you hooked!
EGGPLANT is a member of the nightshade family (a relative of tobacco), and therefore should be consumed in moderation. It is cooling, low in calories, and contains potassium. I only buy eggplant in the late summer and early fall, when its cooling properties are welcome and its flavor is at its peak. I prefer the Japanese eggplants, which are long and slender, as opposed to the globe variety that are large and pear-shaped. The Asian varieties tend to have a thinner skin, carry fewer seeds, and are less bitter than the larger eggplants; the salting technique is often unnecessary. Purchase eggplant that is firm, with tight, vibrant, unblemished skin. Avoid extremely large eggplants or those with a spongy texture. Eggplant is highly perishable and should be used within 1 day of purchase; store in a cool (not cold) area until ready to use.
ROASTED EGGPLANT “FRIES” WITH SUMAC
APPROXIMATELY 4-6 SERVINGS
3 pounds eggplant, preferably Japanese (long, slender, light purple) 1/3- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons ground sumac (see Notes) sea salt to taste
NOTES Eggplant soaks up oil like a sponge.
Sumac is a seasoning with a deep purple-red color and an unique tangy flavor; it is widely available in ethnic stores, specialty food shops, or online fromKalustyan’s and Adriana’s Caravan.
See post-script below for a recipe variation.
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Rinse and towel-dry eggplant. Trim off the green cap. Cut eggplants into wedges; place in a large bowl. Toss eggplant with enough olive oil to coat. Once the quartered eggplant has absorbed the oil, add a bit a more; continue adding oil until each piece is nicely coated. Toss with a liberal pinch of fine sea salt. Spread an even layer on the lined sheet pans; make sure not to overcrowd the pan (eggplant wedges should not touch one another), or the eggplant will steam and become mushy. Roast for 25-35 minutes (depending on the thickness of your wedges), or until caramelized crispy. Allow to cool slightly; taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. Serve immediately and top with a liberal pinch of ground sumac.
PS – If by chance you have any of these eggplants fries left-over, store them in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, puree them in a food processor with a spoonful of Tahini (sesame paste), 1 clove of smashed garlic, a pinch of sumac, a squeeze of fresh lemon, and sea salt to taste – you’ll have yourself a phenomenal eggplant dip! On second thought, I would consider making double the recipe above just to have this dip the following day.