By: Heidi Lee and Emily Jones
BOSTON – At a memorable Friday Farmers Market at Copley we, the culinary castaways, found yellow-green striped mini eggplants. We endeavored to tame these bizarre gems with sauté and roasting powers. The Striped Toga Eggplant, Solanum melongena, would not be a pushover. We should have known these snazzy dressers would be trouble to plate.
Upon purchasing the adorable zebra-like eggplants the shape and size of jalapeño peppers. We set out to make them edible and attractive. Did we know anything about said variety of mini eggplant? Well – not really, but they certainly looked pretty.
Next was the decision to cook them two ways. Chef Heidi Lee wanted to do a simple sauté and Chef Emily Jones wanted to do a slow roast in the oven. Both with just a little butter, olive oil, salt and fresh minced garlic.
Heidi: Recently, I have been having an eggplant obsession, as you are well aware of. I thought I would drag you into it.
Emily: I think it’s kind of you to include me in your obsession, but really, I think the only eggplant I enjoy is the Japanese eggplant. They have little or no seeds, thin skin, and really hard to mess up. You tend to run into more problems with seeds with other varieties. Except for maybe baba ganoush.
H: I agree with you to the Japanese eggplants. But I have messed up baba ganoush. I roasted globe eggplants (aka Italian eggplants) in the oven, peeled the skin, the blended the eggplant with garlic, tahini paste, lemon juice, olive oil, and a dash of salt. It was quite spicy and bitter as a result of the seeds.
E: But there is a difference between roasting in the oven and grilling outdoors with the smoke billowing from the vents.
H: Yes, but I didn’t have a grill at the time. So I made do with what I had.
E: You lazy, lazy person. I’ve gotten good results with both grilling and roasting the eggplants for baba ganoush.
H: did you use globe eggplants?
E: Italian. Yeah.
H: hmmphh. I don’t know then, maybe I didn’t roast my eggplants long enough to bring out their sweetness. Or maybe they were old.
E: Yeah, you have to cut them in half length wise and roast them for a long time.
H: Hmmm… The recipe I used didn’t have me cut them in half. That would probably speed up the roasting time.
E: Yeah, and it creates a kind of convection cooking process within the eggplant. It keeps it moist while it cooks through. And when you take it out it will be charred on the bottom whether or not you put it on aluminum foil. And you need to keep in mind that since eggplants are so spongy, they cook down to about a cup of eggplant mush.
H: Yeah, I haven’t had too much experience with eggplants. My mom is the one that usually cooks it and she cooks it Chinese style, when I cook it the Chinese way it turns out really well. Except for the time I forgot soy sauce. I didn’t like them until recently, so that was my experimentation. But these striped toga eggplants were similar to globe eggplants in their bitterness and toughness of the skin. Although they did have a sweeter, fruitier taste. The bitterness was more of an after taste don’t you think?
E: Yeah, I would agree. It was weird with how I cooked mine because they were sort of an eggplant leather. Like the fruit leather but with eggplants. They were so thin that the skin and seeds took over and made it leathery. There was so little flesh that you were basically eating skin and seeds. I mean, whatever these eggplants were bred for, they weren’t bred for their flesh.
Overall, the results were disappointing. The roasting subjects were the smallest and largest eggplants. The largest were cut into rounds and the smallest were cut in half lengthwise, approximately of the same thickness.
While the roasting technique brought out the sweetness the sauté gave much better visual results. The medium sized sauté subjects were all cut lengthwise showing more of the beautiful striped skin. In both cases the flavor was completely overpowered by the amount of seeds packed into these eggplants making them bitter and mealy.
The skin was tough and thick for how small they were, unsoftened by the heat. Perhaps one could use the smaller eggplants in a vegetable stew as a replacement for okra, and they would be much softer if left in one piece.
These edible, but undesirable eats were beautiful and ‘ornamental’ as one site selling seeds professed. If you need an autumn centerpiece, the Striped Toga Eggplant is your vegetable.