I am not sure how we have actually been able to grow beautiful eggplant in our garden. These determined plants have survived extreme heat and frequent attacks by those little black beetles to produce some lovely eggplant. It has been fun to cook these garden gifts in different ways and experiment with some new possibilities.
Our youngest son, who works in New York City, recently brought home a lovely guest who not only helped me water the garden but posed a question about cooking eggplant. “How can you make it crisp?” she asked pointing out that it can start out that way but gets mushy soon after it is cooked.
I suggested she slice it, then salt it lightly and place the slices between paper towels, letting some of the water come out. This also helps curtail eggplant's tendency to have a slightly bitter taste. The salt will coax extra moisture out of the tissues in the eggplant's meaty flesh. By the way, I recommend coarse-grained kosher salt as it takes so little to achieve this moisture reduction.
This also works for summer squash and green tomatoes. Those of you watching salt intake can still coax out some of the moisture by placing the slices between sheets of paper towels without the little sprinkling of salt. Soon the paper towels will have acquired moisture from the slices.
Once some of this moisture is present, sprinkle the surface with a bit of rice flour or cornstarch. Now you are ready to cook the slices or add additional coatings to crisp up the eggplant. I found adding some breading is a sure way to crisp it up. After the rice flour coating, dip the slices into a slightly beaten egg white. The coating helps the egg white adhere to the surface.
Then generously sprinkle some panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) on a small plate or saucer. Press both sides of each egg white coated slice into the crumbs embedding them into the surface. Next heat some grape seed oil (quarter- to half-inch deep) in a skillet over medium heat and saute the slices on both sides until golden brown. Remove them to paper toweling to absorb any excess oil and serve warm.
Alternatively, the rice flour or cornstarch coated slices can be placed in a large plastic bag then tossed with a sprinkling of olive or grape seed oil to cover the coating. Place the slices on a parchment covered baking sheet like eggplant “cookies.” Sprinkle with a little Italian seasoning. Bake on the upper rack of a 375-degree oven until the coating turns golden brown.
Thinner is crispier
The thinner the slice, the crispier it will become. Remove from the oven and serve warm or incorporate into other dishes.
Crispy eggplant chips can be made by slicing the eggplant about quarter-inch thick and slowly drying them in a low oven (175 to 200 degrees). Check them often to be sure they don't get too brown.
Crispy eggplant makes a great appetizer or snack served warm with a sauce or my favorite jelly with a “kick.”
Of course, it also can be served with your own ranch dressing, homemade or purchased marinara sauce, homemade or Oklahoma salsa, or my favorite accompaniment: Suan's Scotch Bonnet Pepper Jelly. I am not kidding — just spoon a little onto a crispy eggplant slice and savor. This made right here in Oklahoma jelly is absolutely yummy on oven-roasted salmon or chicken ... but that's another column.
One medium-size eggplant will make four appetizer servings or two generous sides.
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup rice flour
1 egg white beaten until frothy
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/3 to 1/2 cup grape-seed oil
Cook's notes: These slices can be used to top chicken or veal cutlets with a little marinara sauce and a bit of provolone cheese. They can be served as an appetizer with a garnish of ranch dressing. They can be incorporated into lasagna or a sandwich. Try them with salsa or a dollop of Greek yogurt.