Moroccan Tomato & Eggplant “Salad”

Vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh eggplant (that haven’t hiked all the way here from Mexico) are two of my favorite things about late summer. Here’s an unusual recipe that uses both. Don’t be put off by the eggplant. My husband, an avowed eggplant-avoider, loves it this way. (Be sure to read down for tips on picking out an eggplant.)

The traditional way to eat this stuff is with your fingers. Please do this. Somehow, it just doesn’t taste the same with a fork or spoon. Provide warm water and towels to guests for cleaning up afterward.

Moroccan Tomato & Eggplant “Salad”

2 lbs. ripe tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes, half drained
2 lbs. eggplant
Olive oil as needed
1 large bunch parsley, chopped (about 1½ C)
1 large bunch cilantro, chopped
2 – 4 tsp. (or more) ground cumin
Lots of salt and pepper
Moroccan bread

Using a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife, peel the eggplant (or just remove half the peel, perhaps in alternating stripes, if you want some extra texture). Slice it into ½-inch thick rounds. Brush both sides with olive oil and arrange in single layer on a cookie sheet or in microwave-safe pan. Microwave, or bake at 350°F, until the slices are soft and tender. You can also sauté them, but try not to use much more oil or the finished salad will be greasy and too high in fat.

Transfer cooked eggplant to a large frying pan. Mash until lumpy. Carefully add half the herbs, 1 – 2 tsp. cumin, salt and pepper. Sauté, gently turning with a spatula, for a few minutes to barely cook the herbs. Transfer to just the center of a large round platter. Spread into a circle that’s evenly thick, leaving room around the perimeter for the tomatoes.

If using fresh tomatoes, peel them, cut them in half to scoop out the seeds, and coarsely chop.

Wipe out the frying pan with a paper towel, reheat the pan, and add a film of olive oil. Add the tomatoes. Simmer over low heat for about 10 – 15 min. You should have a thickened gloppy mass with some juices. Fold in most of the remaining herbs, 1 – 2 tsp. cumin, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 more minutes. Transfer to the serving platter, surrounding the eggplant.

Serve at room temperature, garnished with a few springs of parsley and/or cilantro.

Use your fingers to scoop up the salad with chunks of Moroccan bread, or whatever heavy, yeasty bread you can find at the bakery.

Eggplant Revelations

While we’re on the topic of eggplants, you might want to know how to pick out a good one at the market.

Basically, you want the freshest eggplant you can find. Look for one that’s shiny, not dull. Heft them—lighter eggplants have fewer seeds and therefore less bitterness. And if you can get them, opt for the slender, “Asian” varieties. They taste better than the big, round Italian types.

There’s a bunch of discussion about “male” vs. “female” eggplants. This is nonsense. Eggplants are fruits. They contain seeds. They may be the result of sex, but they do not have different sexes.

In more technical terms, eggplant flowers are “perfect” in that they contain both male and female parts. They are self-fertile. That is, pollen from a flower’s anthers can fertilize that same flower’s ovules. While wind and other mechanical factors contribute somewhat, bees are the main pollinators of eggplants and other related crops (tomatoes, peppers, etc.).

Once the ovules are fertilized, they mature into seeds. The ovary gets bigger as the seeds grow. The eggplant “fruit” that we eat is actually the enlarged ovary. (Now who ever heard of a male ovary?)

Apparently, someone decided that eggplants with an round “innie” flower scar (look at the end opposite the stem) are “female,” while those with just a line are “male.” While the shape of the scar may be related to the eating quality of the fruit, it has nothing to do with gender.

Now don’t you wish you’d paid better attention in high school biology?

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