Editors' Picks

Barbara Kafka's Marinated Eggplant

September 11, 2013

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The best, fastest, lightest eggplant technique you haven't tried yet. (It's in the microwave. Don't be mad.)

Barbara Kafka's Marinated Eggplant from Food52

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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? 

Barbara Kafka's Marinated Eggplant from Food52

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.

In 1992, Barbara Kafka, a.k.a. The Microwave Gourmet, fixed all that. She's not afraid to cook risotto or pâté in the microwave -- why would eggplant stop her?

Photo from bkafka.com

More: Another genius coup from Kafka -- the dead simplest, perfect roast chicken recipe.

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.

Barbara Kafka's Marinated Eggplant from Food52

Make a gingery marinade in the blender.

Barbara Kafka's Marinated Eggplant from Food52  Photo by James Ransom

Spoon it over the eggplants, rub it in, and let them sit for a bit.

Barbara Kafka's Marinated Eggplant from Food52  Barbara Kafka's Marinated Eggplant from Food52

Barbara Kafka's Marinated Eggplant from Food52

Cover them with microwave-safe plastic wrap and zap it for 10 minutes.

Barbara Kafka's Marinated Eggplant from Food52

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.

Barbara Kafka's Marinated Eggplant from Food52

Barbara Kafka's Marinated Eggplant

Adapted slightly from The New York Times (July 8, 1992)

Serves 4

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)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

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!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ebeth
  • p
  • cookinalong
  • Nomnomnom
  • I_Fortuna
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Ebeth June 30, 2014
plastic wrap manufacturers now make microwave safe plastic wrap. the complaints were based on the softeners used to make the wrap. they were eliminated or changed by all the plastic wrap manufacturers. but please, when microwaving with plastic wrap, leave a small area open on the side to prevent bursting. do not totally cover unless the recipe specifically says to do so, which is usually with a lid. regular italian eggplant will not cook the same as the japanese eggplant unless you get the babies at harvest or at the farmer's market. japanese eggplant allows to leave the skin on as well as not having to salt to remove the bitterness.
I_Fortuna June 30, 2014
I don't salt to remove bitterness primarily. I salt to remove excess water. Removing excess water changes the texture from mushy to firm, keeps it from absorbing so much oil when cooked, and is better especially for making eggplant Parmesan (thinly cut slices), moussaka and ratatouille which is already often soupy or mushy from overcooking. Removing the bitterness is a secondary purpose for me.
I use a Japanese pickle press to remove water from eggplant, tofu, cucumber and other veggies. This preserves the cucumbers and other veggies for awhile in the fridge making them handy for salads and other dishes.
I always leave the skin on because it has important nutrients.
p September 27, 2013
This sure brought back some memories! I remember getting Barbara's cookbook when it came out and trying tons recipes using that new fangled "toy". Her eggplant recipes were always favorites of mine and I still refer back to her book when it's too hot to cook but I want something yummy & now but haven't planned ahead. Lots of good time savers and starting points for other dishes. My poor book is falling apart, many sections have popped out but hey, back then as a busy mom of 3 boys, full-time worker, etc., etc., it was a lifesaver. I liked to cook using real ingredients vs my ex who always wanted to use pre-packaged, convenient stuff so I think my meals were always healthier. Maybe not as fast as blue box mac n cheese but more delicious, that's for sure!
cookinalong September 15, 2013
Nomnomnom, please don't let the plastic wrap issue put you off trying this recipe. It's not necessary, and if you feel so strongly, there's no reason you should use it. I have found that any tight fitting lid is perfectly adequate and gives fine results.
Nomnomnom September 15, 2013
I agree. The recipe sounds good! Just wanted to point out that the evidence points to a need for greater caution with the use of plastics, not less.
Nomnomnom September 15, 2013
With all due respect to the editors, I would like to comment regarding the safety of plastics. Concerned readers would be interested to read this study, as referenced by another commenter on the Modernist Cuisine article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222987/ The study concerns the established danger of plastics leaching chemicals with estrongenic activity (EA). In addition, there are environmental concerns about using of plastic products, when you consider its cradle to grave life cycle. This is an item intended to be used once and thrown away, at a high environmental price.
I_Fortuna September 12, 2013
I like Kristen's recipe better. It is 100% vegetarian. It is also drained of excess water which I always do when preparing eggplant. I like the recipe posted here because it is not bitter or mushy and is delicious. Everyone's tastebuds are different especially if they smoke. After I quit, it took a couple of years to get my taste back fully. Now I don't have to use so much seasoning when cooking.
cookinalong September 12, 2013
I made this last night using regular eggplant which, for the record, I think I get a bum rap for alleged bitterness. Even when I don't salt and drain it, not a trace of bitterness! But I digress. Kafka's recipe yields a good recipe, but nothing to rock your world. It needed both more garlic and more ginger, to my taste. I also added a pinch of dried red pepper flakes. The real take away here, for me, was the microwaving technique. Especially with summer roaring back here in NY yesterday, not turning on the oven or even the stovetop was a real plus. I did find it needed more like 12-14 minutes instead of 10, but that could be the different variety of eggplant or my microwave. I sliced the eggplant into 1/2 inch thick rounds and scored them on both sides. Great alternative technique for hot weather, or anytime you're making something with eggplant as an ingredient and you're running out of pans or burners! I can see using this to speed up ratatouille...
AntoniaJames September 12, 2013
Have you tested this one, submitted by monkeymom for the "best recipe from your mother" contest? http://food52.com/recipes/4199-criss-cross-pan-fried-eggplant
I tested this new Genius recipe last night and just have posted comments on the recipe. (I was underwhelmed.) monkeymom's version is, admittedly, a little less "clean," and a little more work, but it is well worth it. With a good fan, it shouldn't heat up your kitchen too much. I've made it several dozen times and like it a lot more. (I consider it one of the hidden gems -- unrecognized but outstanding, go-to recipes -- on this site.) ;o)
Tracey W. September 11, 2013
Looks amazing... thanks for sharing.
Laura P. September 11, 2013
I'm so glad you called out Barbara Kafka's serious, and seriously useful, work on the microwave oven. Try her quenelles as well as her risotto. Not to mention any vegetable you can name. I use her microwave cookbook equally with such bibles as Mark Bittman and Nigella Lawson.
PMarie September 11, 2013
I've been doing the microwave thing with eggplant for a long time, but never thought of marinating it. I also roast it split lengthwise, face-down, under a broiler, and you're right--it is sweet, simple and supple when you eat eggplant plain.

lydia.sugarman September 11, 2013
Don't own a microwave. I do have a convection toaster oven/broiler as well as the oven in my gas stove. Suggestions?
Connie T. August 11, 2015
Get yourself a microwave if you want to prepare this as directed. Simple as that.
cookinalong September 11, 2013
Is Japanese eggplant essential to this recipe? My local supermarket is practiclly giving away eggplant ($.69 per lb!), so I have of course been on an eggplant binge! But they're the regular old large size ones...Would they work? Is there a difference besides the smaller size between the Japanese and the larger ones?
Kristen M. September 11, 2013
I haven't yet tried this recipe with larger eggplants, but Kafka has charts for every type of eggplant in both her microwave cookbooks, so it can be done. The bigger ones can be more seedy and less tender, but it's worth a try. I would try cutting them smaller, into something like 1-inch thick rounds or slabs -- if you do, please let us know how you like it!
chocolateandvegetables September 11, 2013
Can't speak to this recipe specifically, but I often interchange eggplant types and although they do taste different, they generally work equally well. If I did use a "regular" eggplant for this recipe I would probably slice it into quarters rather than halves.
savorthis September 11, 2013
Wow...this is exciting. My eggplant is finally ready for picking and I have everything else on hand. I suppose for larger eggplant I could just cut them in quarters- but if anyone has thoughts on that let me know.
mrslarkin September 11, 2013
me too! picked one yesterday and it's 11 ounces. Not sure how I will cut it up. Kristin, any advice?
Kristen M. September 11, 2013
Check out my response to cookinalong above!
I_Fortuna September 11, 2013
I really like this recipe and the fact the you recommend salting the eggplant to remove excess water. This step is so important in some veggies to have a better texture and not end up mushy. If a weight is placed on top, the results are even better.
I use a Japanese pickle press (very inexpensive) to remove water from my veggies. The layers of veggies are generously salted (no water added),the press screwed down tightly, I wait about an hour, pour off the brine, rinse the veggies and use accordingly.
I_Fortuna September 11, 2013
"Several years ago nutritionists raised concerns that the microwaves depleted nutrients in food. If anything, studies have shown the opposite. All cooking methods can destroy vitamins; the extent of the damage depends on the temperature and the length of cooking time. Most research indicates that microwave ovens result in less extreme temperatures and in fact require less time for cooking than stove-top or oven methods. Boiling food is particularly deleterious."
This link is from Scientific America Oct 2008.
Lbruna September 11, 2013
It's not so much about the food in the microwave as it is about the EMFs emitted by the microwave oven in your kitchen and your exposure. Do you have evidence that there is no concern for the user? Next is the usage of plastic wrap...there is microwave safe plastic wrap? Hmmm...not on my food, TY. I think the sauce sounds awesome...though. Plan to try this eve...but not in a microwave with plastic wrap.
Marshacb September 12, 2013
1) The microwave oven does not work when the door is open and the oven itself is shielded, so no electromagnetic waves are "emitted" by the oven. 2) All radio waves enter your house as electromagnetic waves. 3) All cell phones, TV remotes, and other Bluetooth-type gadgets also operate with electromagnetic waves that are about the same frequency as those in your oven. So there is no concern about the waves in your microwave oven.
Marian B. September 11, 2013
Honestly, my favorite thing about this recipe is the sauce. I want to put it on everything. Starting with broiled tofu.
PMarie September 11, 2013
I second that--it's a godsend for mild-flavored foods....on tofu? Yum!

AntoniaJames September 11, 2013
For dinner tonight. Full stop. ;o)
chocolateandvegetables September 11, 2013
I always have to reserve eggplants for weekend cooking only because of their neediness--I'm going to have to give this recipe a try and see if I can't fix that problem.
4cookietime September 11, 2013
Sure you can make it in the oven ~ and I am sure it will be delicious !
missadventurenaut September 11, 2013
I was just complaining about the "neediness" of eggplants in the summer heat, I will definitely try out this technique!