Don't Salt the Eggplant!
“Salt the eggplants is the biggest error ever! “ – Benny the Chef!
Quick, what’s the first thing you do after you slice an eggplant when making a casserole such as Parmigiana? Did you answer “salt it to extract the water”? I bet that the majority of us would answer in exactly that way. But, is that really the right answer? Degorging (ie salting, resting, and rinsing with the goal of removing the bitter taste) is one of those culinary techniques that brings out the rattling cutlery and causes opinionated chefs everywhere to raise their voices and cleavers in argument. I’ve always salted the eggplant and never tried it any other way. Why? Habit - and because most eggplant casserole recipes tell you to do just that.
One of my favorite chefs from Rome insists that degorging actually causes the bitter taste in the naturally sweet vegetable. He says it is more important to make sure you buy fresh young tight-skinned eggplants and cook them quickly to a golden brown immediately after slicing. Immediate cooking prevents oxidation which occurs upon long exposure to air. While oxidation is beneficial to some vegetables like onions, it does no good at all to an eggplant.
On the other side of the debate and armed with equally impressive and well sharpened implements, I found a Sicilian chef who insists that degorging is critical as it removes the bitter taste; and that the most important step is thorough rinsing and squishing out of all the salt followed by a good pressing with paper towels to extract every bit of the salty water. She says un-rinsed salt is the problem if the eggplant is still bitter. This made me wonder though - what happens to all the nutrition after all that suctioning out of natural juices and rinsing? I stared at the three eggplants that I had purchased in order to make a nice Parmigiana and resolved that they would not suffer unnecessary extraction of their nutrition.
While many of us at Calorie count love to roast, broil, or grill our eggplant, the traditional method of prepping involves frying in oil. How much oil is necessary to quickly fry an eggplant so that it is not bitter and does not absorb too much oil is also hotly debated. Quantities listed in recipes range from “just a smear” to several cups. Obviously, as a calorie counter, I rather liked the idea of the “smear” of oil, but what if the deep bath in hot oil cooks the things faster and prevents the eggplant from absorbing as much fat? The clashing of eggplant theories was starting to complicate my meal preparations, and I began to reconsider making the Parmigiana.
Fortunately, before I scuttled that tasty plan, I found a point of aubergine (eggplant) agreement in regard to reducing the absorption of fat! It is very important to stand the eggplant vertically to slice – and not just lay the thing on its side and slice horizontally as most people automatically do. Horizontal slicing exposes the flesh in such a way as to cause the eggplant to just drink in oil like a car that needs repair.
So, who’s right for the fry method? Does the non-degorging work? How much oil DO you need to brown eggplant without a greasy taste? I decided to give non-degorging a try for my Parmigiana along with a risky experiment involving two different approaches to the use of oil. You can read about the experiment in the blog on how I made the Do Not Ever Salt the Eggplant Parmigiana at The Mindful Palate – a recipe which surprised me because it received a B- from Calorie Count on nutrition in spite of oil and a lot of cheese!
Fortunately, many eggplant recipes do not require vast quantities of oil and cheese as in the Parmigiana, and are marvelous for those of us here counting calories with an eye to lose weight. Here are a few no salt is used to sweat the eggplant recipes that I think you will enjoy.
The story and recipe for Do Not Ever Salt the Eggplant Parmigiana
Eggplant is often associated with Italian cookery, but this Louisiana style version is simply superb.
I found this vegetarian Eggplant Curry on a recipe search at Calorie Count! Give the search recipe bar a try and see what you can find to help make your calorie counting even tastier.
Pat's Grilled Baba Ganoush is a very easy and amazingly healthy appetizer dip or side for a meal.
Crazypotato98's Roasted Ratatouille is simple and incredibly low in calorie!
Eggplants are a part of the nightshade family of vegetables and are a fantastic friend to the calorie counter because they are ridiculously low in calories, with only 33 calories per cup. They are nutritious, delicious, and very filling.
Did you know eggplants come not only in a variety of interesting shapes and sizes, but also in colors like white, yellow, pink, green, and orange? I didn't and I can't wait to find a few different colors and shapes to try. Because eggplant is too often cooked in ways that bring out the bitter elements, it is also one of “those” foods that people either love or hate. If you think you don’t like eggplant, try the no salt, slice, and quick brown method and see if you become an eggplant convert after you make the sweetest Parmigiana ever!
Are you pro or anti eggplant? Did you have an unfortunate bitter eggplant experience that turned you against the pretty things? Are you a salter or a non-salter? If you fry your eggplant slices, how much oil do you use? Do you prefer them roasted, broiled, or grilled instead? Have you ever cooked with a non-purple eggplant? What is your favorite eggplant recipe? Will you try the non-degorging method if you usually degorge and let me know what you think?