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Today: The best, fastest, lightest eggplant technique you haven't tried yet. (It's in the microwave. Don't be mad.)
I'd like to make an announcement: You can cook eggplant in the microwave -- and you should.
I know what you're going to say. You'll want to talk about the relationship you have with your eggplant -- how you love to rake it around the roasting pan or plunge it in hot oil with all your senses engaged. You want to be right there with it, watching its stubborn, spongy belly meat give in and melt into soft gold.
That's lovely. I want that too, sometimes. But what if it's still 90 degrees in your kitchen? What if you're hungry now? What if you don't want to trick your eggplant into submission with a lot of oil, for the umpteenth time this summer?
Eggplant, we love you, but you're a little too needy for being in season this time of year. There are only so many times we will break a sweat over you before we decide to go eat a tomato for dinner.
Not only is it a faster, cooler, and cleaner way to cook eggplant -- it's, frankly, the best tasting one we tested.
The flesh sort of crinkles up and the sweet flavors concentrate. It's soft but not flimsy; aggressively flavored but still tasting of itself. Once bystanders stop gawking and try a bite, it immediately disappears.
When you're ready to step back for once and just eat some good eggplant, try this:
Halve a few skinny Chinese eggplants and crosshatch their middles.
Make a gingery marinade in the blender.
Spoon it over the eggplants, rub it in, and let them sit for a bit.
Cover them with microwave-safe plastic wrap and zap it for 10 minutes.
All microwaves are different. At full blast (1,200 watts), ours consistently cooked the eggplant perfectly, but a little of the plastic wrap melted away. If that scares you (and here's why, if you're using the right kind, it shouldn't), use a microwave-safe casserole dish with a lid or experiment with lower power settings -- but we much preferred the high power results.
So next week (or next summer), you can give your best to eggplant -- salt, drain, and wring out its bitter tears; slather it with oil; crank your ovens; breathe deeply; do a twirl. But tonight, you can just nuke it. And eat even better.
Adapted slightly from The New York Times (July 8, 1992)
1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons loosely packed cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon rice-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 medium-size cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
3/8 ounce peeled fresh ginger (a 1-by-1/4-inch piece), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
4 small Chinese eggplants (2 to 3 ounces each)
Photos by James Ransom
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Brette Warshaw for this one!
The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites -- all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order your copy now.