The Key To Cooking Eggplant
Photo by Regina Charboneau
The color of eggplant is being used in home décor, fashion, and even eye shadows this season--aubergine, the French word for eggplant, sounds better as a fashion color.
Yet my most vivid food memory of eggplant is with my great aunt Corrine Trosclair. She was the great aunt who never married. My other great aunts Lucille, Flora, and Nan Marie would tell me that Taunt Ninne never married because she was such a dedicated teacher. My father would whisper to me that she never married because she was ugly. Not very nice, but I smile when I think of it.
She was a very dedicated teacher and loved the cultural and food history and diversity of the Creoles of Louisiana and the Cajuns. She was constantly telling me the difference in the people and in the food. She was an incredible cook and after she retired, that is what she did from early to late, even when she was in a wheelchair.
Just like catfish, crawfish, hush puppies, and okra, we fry eggplant. The key to eggplant is to slice it, salt it, and let some of the bitter juice out.
Every summer we were sent in pairs to visit the Aunts in Opelousas, Louisiana for a mandatory week. My father's family home was referred to as the big house. Not as in jail, but it seemed quite large when we were young. The food there was a happy memory. The fresh milk with cream floating on top was a bit strange to me no matter how much my aunt touted it as a treat. I would like to try it now; I probably would love it; however at eight years old I was having nothing that floated in my milk.
The other interesting thing about the big house was that the spinster and widowed aunts lived there alone, but every day their two brothers and all of the nephews would come from work for lunch. The ladies of the house treated my Great Uncle Frank like a king, and he acted like one.
Their brother Finley, who I grew up believing wrestled alligators for a living, would be there, as well as all of the nephews. There would be homemade soup and a bounty of other dishes. I can't remember all of the dishes but I do remember Taunt Ninne's stuffed eggplant with crab, and I remember her making it one time with hamburger and I liked it just as well.
To this day I like eggplant whether has been prepared in Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Italian, or Mediterranean Cuisine. I do know that by my Aunt's standards stuffed eggplant at the big house in Opelousas was considered a Creole dish. I would like to trust everything my Aunt taught me as true, but there was a large population of Sicilian and Italian immigrants that came to Louisiana a long time after the Creoles. Although she taught me that Creole cooking is an intermingling of French, Spanish, African, and American Indian, there may be a little Italian thrown into this dish.
Just like catfish, crawfish, hush puppies, and okra, we fry eggplant. The key to eggplant is to slice it, salt it, and let some of the bitter juice out before you dust with flour and egg wash and then dip into seasoned breadcrumbs. A few people have told me they don't like the seeds in eggplant, but if they would just cook it long enough, the seeds soften and to me become part of the texture that makes eggplant so delectable. I always use the seeds in my stuffed eggplant.
Eggplant can fit into any budget and any palate, whether you stuff it with ground chuck, ground turkey or for an elegant meal stuffed with lump crabmeat. There is a good $18 difference between ground chuck and lump crabmeat, but stuffed eggplant is a treat at any price.