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What’s in Season: Savory Eggplant Dip

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Eggplant flourishes in the scorching heat of a Deep South summer. My grandparents grew row upon row of the stately bushes, heavily laden with the shiny black-purple orbs. The plants are absolutely majestic in the vegetable garden with their luscious, draped, fanlike leaves and vibrant colors. My grandmother seemed to only ever fry eggplant. She peeled, then dusted thick ivory eggplant steaks, peppered with an abundance of seeds in seasoned finely ground cornmeal. They were then pan-fried in a bath of sizzling hot oil in a cast iron skillet until golden brown and crisp.

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Eggplant Recipes

Eggplant is one of the summer’s most luscious and sensuous vegetables and has always been one of my favorites. It’s very meaty in texture, therefore adding bulk to a meal. A lot of recipes call for salting eggplant. I’ll be honest, I usually don’t bother. For a quick summer side dish, I peel the large Italian ones, slice into cubes, and quickly saute in just a bit of oil. Another favorite cooking technique is to grill. Eggplant will soak up oil like a sponge if given the chance. I generally spritz thick slices with olive oil before placing on the grill.

When I grill, I always prepare extra vegetables. Take the leftover grilled eggplant and give it a whirl in the food processor with a spoonful of tahini and a clove of garlic. It’s not proper baba ganoush, but it is a deliciously smoky spoonful. Eggplant makes an incredible puree. When it cooks it breaks down into a very soft and creamy texture.

 

How to Choose an Eggplant

Did you know eggplant is a berry, just like blueberries, watermelon, or tomatoes? In botany, a berry is a fruit in which the entire ovary wall ripens into an edible, relatively soft pericarp. Of course, culinary-wise we treat it as a vegetable, but it is funny to think about it! . It’s truly one of my favorite vegetables. I love the meatiness of it, the texture, and toothsomeness of it. Eggplant is immensely versatile.

Eggplant is generally available year-round, with peak season in the northern hemisphere being late-summer. Select an eggplant with smooth, untarnished skin. The small and medium-sized ones will have a better, sweeter flavor, fewer seeds, and more delicate skin. The most common variety is called Globe, but there are many other types in the grocery store, and especially at farmer’s markets. They can be as small as a golf ball to large and round like a giant teardrop. All eggplant will spoil and get more bitter with them, so eat within 5 days of purchasing.  Store in the refrigerator, and wash just before using.

Thanks so much for reading. Stay safe and well. 

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Virginia Willis

 

Savory Eggplant Dip

Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time55 mins
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American, Chinese
Keyword: eggplant, vegetable recipes
Servings: 6
Author: Virginia Willis

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplant
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced green and white scallion rings
  • 1 serrano chile pepper cored, seeded, and chopped, plus more sliced for garnish
  • ¼ teaspoon dried red chile flakes or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons tamari
  • 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 475°F. Wrap the eggplant in foil and place in the oven. Roast until collapsed and very tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the eggplant and loosen the foil. Slit it lengthwise to speed the cooling.
  • Combine the garlic, ginger, scallion, and Serrano pepper in the bowl of a small food processor fitter with blade attachment. Pulse to combine. Set aside. Combine the tamari, brown sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside.
  • Heat a wok over medium high heat. Add the canola oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the reserved garlic-ginger mixture and red pepper flakes.
  • Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant 45 to 60 seconds. Add the reserved sauce ingredients and eggplant.
  • Stir well to blend, and heat through. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve warm or cold. Keeps up to 5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 1 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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