Crispy Eggplant Poppers
Eggplant is one of those vegetables that can turn out bitter and slimy if not prepared correctly. This made-over recipe for pan-fried eggplant offers a healthier alternative to the deep fat fryer version. And, it may be a good way to entice the rest of the family to try a new vegetable.
A few weeks ago, we were headed to the local vegetable/ice cream stand to get fresh sweet corn for dinner when I noticed they had eggplant (as well as White Russian ice cream in fresh waffle cones). I was excited as I explained to my non-Southern friend that these were perfect for frying and would she like to bring the kids over the next day for dinner and I would fry some. She looked skeptical and I'm sure she was envisioning a deep fat fryer and all the trans fats that go with it. But fried eggplant, when you can find good eggplant, is to die for and won't make you feel like a lead balloon afterwards.
In our day of fertilizer and giant vegetables, you want to look for small eggplant. The larger the eggplant, the more seeds. The more seeds, the more bitter the taste. The most crucial step in any eggplant recipe is selection. So think small, firm, no outward blemishes, and then I always buy one more than I think I will need because you almost always encounter a little worm or the bottom inch gets too full of seeds.
Once you get your little eggplants home, leave them on the counter, and eat soon after purchase. Refrigeration can damage the texture and flavor. When preparing eggplant, it's up to you whether you want to peel or leave the skin on. The skin of purple eggplants contains a powerful antioxidant called nasunin. I prefer to peel them, but others prefer the peel for some added color and the extra nutritional benefits.
I slice my eggplant pretty thinly because I prefer it that way, but you could go up to 1/4-inch slices if you like. Another crucial step for delicious fried eggplant is salting it and letting it stand.
Lay all of your eggplant slices out on paper towels and sprinkle them with salt. It does not require a ton of salt to pull all the moisture out. Keep in mind you want to pull all the liquid out of them, but you do not want to feel like you're licking a block of salt when you eat them later. It will look unappetizing, but persevere. Let them stand for at least a couple of hours. If they stand all day - even better. Before frying, you will want to gently and firmly pat dry, removing the moisture and salt from the surface.
Your batter for frying (we Southerners call this seasoning your flour) is adjustable to your taste. These measurements are general suggestions. Not a thing about them is scientific.
At this point in frying your eggplant, you are faced with a choice - to dredge in egg or not. I fall on the not side. More vegetable, less breading. Vegan. Delicious. But if you're envisioning a breaded super crunchy fried eggplant, then dredge in egg. Not vegan, but still delicious.
2-3 small eggplants
2 tablespoons organic butter
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 egg, lightly beaten (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour, or *nut meal
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
several teaspoons of your favorite seasonings or no-salt-added seasoning blend
* Nut meal makes this a gluten free dish
Rinse your eggplant, pat dry, and slice thinly. Place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Lightly sprinkle with salt. Let sit for several hours. Firmly pat dry, getting rid of the water that has been sucked out and simultaneously removing the excess salt.
Just before you're ready to eat, heat the oil and butter (or just coconut oil if you like) over medium-high heat in a large skillet, making sure the entire bottom is coated. You might need more oil, depending on the size of your skillet.
Meanwhile, if you've chosen the egg dredging route - lightly beat the egg in a wide-mouthed bowl, or plate with high sides. In another wide-mouthed bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and other seasonings.
You know your oil is hot enough when you put a tiny pinch of your flour into the oil and it begins to pop.
Dredge the prepared eggplant first in the egg (skip this step and just place in the seasoned flour for vegan/egg allergies), and then in the seasoned flour. Tap coated eggplant gently on the side of the bowl to get rid of excess flour, and drop into oil. Working quickly, fill the pan, and immediately check to see if the first rounds in are ready to turn. Flip the eggplant when it's just short of dark golden brown and then remove from the oil after the other side turns brown and place on more paper towels. As the eggplant cools outside of the oil it cooks a little bit more and is thus a little more done than it may appear in the heat of the oil. Don't wait until it is a nice dark golden brown or it will be overcooked.
Eat while they are still warm. They are good in all sorts of dipping sauces. Ketchup is popular at our house.
What is your favorite way to eat eggplant?