Eggplant

The Sheet-Pan Salad That Made Me Stop Hating Eggplant, Finally

Now it's my lazy summer go-to.

by:
June  6, 2018

A couple things happen when you eat alone as often as I do.

First, you sort of give up on plates and silverware. You get home at 10 p.m. after drinks with your ex, and instead of heating up leftovers in the fridge (the only thing in your fridge right now), you eat white cheddar Cheez-Its over the sink. Maybe an oozy block of Gorgonzola that’s so hot it burns the roof of your mouth. You’re still hungry, so you take those leftovers out of the fridge after all, a greasy takeout box of cream cheese and crab Rangoons. Even cold, they’re crunchy. When you’re full, finally, it dawns on you that your entire meal was cheese. It also dawns on you that you probably eat with your hands because a boy once said to you, “You have nice hands.”

You imagine your mother watching you, you with the small apartment that doesn’t even have a table to eat Cheez-Its or blue cheese at. And in that moment, you can see yourself from above, as if you’ve astral projected out of your own body and are observing as a bystander.

The aubergine makes friends, at last. Photo by Rocky Luten

And then, finally, you imagine not eating over the sink anymore. You imagine a better version of yourself, maybe a civilized one sitting at a table, any table, with a fork (even a knife). A less-harried version of yourself, taking time out of his night to treat himself to that one elusive thing that, for some reason, seems impossible to come by in this day and age: dinner.

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One night, you skip happy hour with the ex and instead go to the grocery store like everyone else. It’s colder than you remember. You walk around aimlessly, unless hunger is an aim (which we all know it is). You pick out a large eggplant because it’s pretty. You buy a lemon because it smells good. It’s summer, so you grab fresh mint (wait, that’s cilantro). You grab fresh mint. You go home, chop up the eggplant roughly into cubes, anoint it with olive oil, watch the olive oil dissipate like greased lightning, like sweat on summer asphalt, like what! Anoint it with more olive oil, watch the thirsty eggplant suck that up too, regret using your hands to shmoosh it all together because now they’re all greasy. Then you roast it because you saw Nigella Lawson do that once.

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Top Comment:
“Like a spongey eggplant cube, I've been sopping everything I could find up. I tried this simple recipe and, though I was always an eggplant supporter, I found this to be my new favorite method of consumption. Thank you for you. :D Your writing is also my new favorite and you gained one more faithful follower. :)”
— Randy
Comment

You wonder if Nigella puts the traybake in the oven like that when she’s home alone, touches the oven door like that with greasy olive-oil hands. Or if they just show you the edited version without the part where she washes them. You bet she washes them, so why didn’t you?

When the eggplant comes out of the oven, it’s spongy, not quite done in the center. You cringe, remembering why you’ve always hated eggplant—what made you think this would be different?

You remember the lemon. It still smells good. You squeeze half of it over the bronzed, rubbery nogoodniks and watch them drink it up like your uncle drinks Santa Barbara Chardonnay. You remember the half-empty bottle of Santa Barbara Chardonnay in your fridge (you don’t have an uncle, that person was you).

Oh, the eggplant. Without thinking, you dress it with more olive oil because that’s how you dress your salads (because they all start with half a lemon, too). And you think: Wait, this isn’t a salad. But cooking is ritual, maybe. Half repetition, half intuition. Maybe this can be a salad. You go with it. You chop the mint roughly, scatter it over the eggplant like cut grass (directly in the sheet pan because you hate doing dishes), season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar because that’s what Mom would do.

You take a bite and everything you thought you knew about eggplant was a lie. The eggplant you knew, growing up, was a bland, bitter Korean banchan called gaji bokkeum (“stir-fried eggplant”). Sesame oil, burnt garlic, salt, maybe soy sauce.

This is not that.

You imagine a better version of yourself, maybe a civilized one sitting at a table, any table, with a fork (even a knife).

It’s simple, but effective. Three ingredients (not counting salt, pepper, and olive oil, the cooking medium): When you roast the eggplant, char it at the edges, you somehow make it earthy again, like ash, which is a welcome substratum for fresh mint and a bright, yellow squeeze of lemon. The lemon juice is insurance against that styrofoam texture you sometimes can get with undercooked eggplant, as are the extra five minutes at the very end, when you leave your warm, fully dressed sheet pan salad in the oven to finish alloying.

They were, as Amanda Hesser writes in her essay “Single Cuisine,” “separate entities tied together by nothing more than the fact that I liked each part.” And in the parts of this lazy summer salad are where you’re able to give eggplant a second chance, finally.

Eggplant, yay or nay? Let us know in the comments below.


EAT YOUR VEGETABLES

33 Comments

Randy October 2, 2018
I'm so happy to have stumbled upon your writing. Like a spongey eggplant cube, I've been sopping everything I could find up. I tried this simple recipe and, though I was always an eggplant supporter, I found this to be my new favorite method of consumption. Thank you for you. :D Your writing is also my new favorite and you gained one more faithful follower. :)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 11, 2018
Aw, thanks Randy. This comment made my day.
 
Patrick S. June 26, 2018
I love eggplant, but every time that I try cooking it without peeling first, the skin gets tough and chewy. It doesn't seem to matter whether I fry or bake it.
 
wonbin June 10, 2018
Your writing looks like it's playing a video. Thank you for the good article. Your writing is very expressive.
 
Suzanne D. June 8, 2018
I'm a little late to the party, but I love this piece! Please keep writing for us in all your spare time. :)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 8, 2018
Aw, thank you for reading it Suzanne. Means a lot.
 
Vas B. June 7, 2018
This looks delicious. Maybe it will help me overcome my love-hate relationship with eggplant. I always buy it when it looks good and then have no clue what to do with it haha
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 8, 2018
That's exactly how I felt when I bought it that day.
 
Hana A. June 7, 2018
Can't wait to make this (for my lunch box :D)!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 8, 2018
Dosirak.
 
Hollis E. June 7, 2018
eggplant -- YAY! YAY! YAY! every which way! i adore it. i'm all about culinary cultural appropriation, so bring it on.
 
Kari M. June 6, 2018
Omg delicious. Making this in the next week for sure.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 8, 2018
Please let me know how it goes!
 
Jugera S. June 6, 2018
This sounds delicious! I am definitely trying it this summer!
 
LeeBee June 6, 2018
Being part Turkish I LOVE eggplant. The Turks do amazing things with them.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 10, 2018
What's your favorite Turkish preparation of eggplant?
 
Sass June 6, 2018
I usually hate most eggplant, dishes, too. I’m definitely going to try this!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 6, 2018
Let me know how it goes?
 
Whats4Dinner June 6, 2018
I'm a confessed eggplant-hater (haters gotta hate) tho I may try this, MAY. I too am Korean and know the banchan to which you are referring. Didn't like that or any "European" dish involving eggplant. More than anything I LOVE your writing!!! More more please :-)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 6, 2018
Aw, thank you!
 
Zozo June 6, 2018
Yusss! Also the only way I started enjoying eggplant was roasting. You'd love Ottolenghi's eggplant cheesecake too. He even recommends a genius idea to put a tray of water in the oven to simulate steaming so the edges of the eggplant don't get too leathery. I'm a thick rounds convert too now. <br /><br />Basil mint and toum is another awesome combo. Also goes amazingly with thick seared zucchini coins. How about that for adulting veges? 😏
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 6, 2018
Whoa, Ottolenghi water trick; writing that one down.
 
Rebecca June 6, 2018
A beautiful piece for a beautiful dish ❤️<br />Thanks for giving this self-proclaimed eggplant hater a reason to give eggplants a second chance; keep these recipes coming!
 
Kevin June 6, 2018
This is so aubergenius!
 
Rebecca June 6, 2018
😆
 
Grant M. June 6, 2018
I literally LOL'd at "you don’t have an uncle, that person was you"
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 8, 2018
glug glug glug
 
Valerio F. June 6, 2018
I too have an invisible wine relative who inhabits my fridge! Also, catch me making this salad tonight :)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 6, 2018
Let me know how it goes.
 
EmilyC June 6, 2018
You’ve combined two things that I adore: sheet pan dinners and eggplant! And bonus points for mentioning white cheddar Cheeze-Its! Will try soon.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 6, 2018
They don't call me the Sheet Pan Prince for nothin'!<br /><br />Just kidding, no one calls me that.
 
Nikkitha B. June 6, 2018
You've inspired me to conquer my own eggplant fears!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 6, 2018
I believe in you!