The meaty eggplant eagerly soaks up seasonings, amplifying its earthiness and complementing many dishes. Prepare eggplant in the oven to concentrate its flavor by cooking out moisture, leaving an improved ratio of flavor to food. Baking and roasting also improves eggplant's texture, making it a bit chewier. Its high moisture content ensures that you'd have to roast it until it's nearly burnt to make it unappealingly chewy. Eggplant loves oil, so don't skimp on it when you coat chunks or slices before roasting.
Roast eggplant whole by first poking the skin all the way around with a fork to allow steam to escape. Bake the eggplant at 375 degrees Fahrenheit to cook it in about an hour, or at 425 degrees Fahrenheit to cook it in about 45 minutes. Bake until the eggplant is completely soft and droopy. Alternately, slice the eggplant in half lengthwise, brush it with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and bake it until the oiled surface starts to brown and the interior is as soft as room temperature butter. Cutting the eggplant in half speeds up the cooking time by about 10 minutes.
Cut eggplant in slices about a 1/4-inch thick to prepare roasted eggplant fillets. Arrange the slices on an oiled baking sheet, brush them with another generous layer of olive oil, and sprinkle them with salt. Use less oil if you're minimizing fat consumption. Alternately, cut the eggplant in bite-size chunks, toss them with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt, and roast them until they're soft. At 375 degrees Fahrenheit, eggplant fillets will bake in about 15 minutes and bite-size chunks will cook thoroughly in 25 to 30 minutes.
Roast eggplant before using it in casseroles that will bake in the oven. Avoid layering it raw in a Parmesan or a biryani, because the eggplant is unlikely to fully soften in the amount of time it will require for the other ingredients to cook. For extra flavor, season the eggplant for the initial roasting with flavors that will complement the finished dish. For example, use basil and oregano if the eggplant is eventually going into an eggplant Parmesan, and use cumin, turmeric and coriander powder if the eggplant is eventually going into a biryani.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.
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