You gotta love a recipe that begins with a tip on preventing detonation. Which is how Claudia Roden, cookbook author extraordinaire, proceeds with many of her eggplant recipes. (If you haven't already, read Jane Kramer's fine 2007 New Yorker profile of Roden.) Before roasting whole eggplants in a very hot oven, you must prick them with the tip of a pointed knife, advises Roden, “to prevent them from exploding.” Not a casual note, really, especially if you consider that a whole eggplant looks remarkably, to my mind, like a Dutch still life artist's rendering of a hand grenade.
Eggplants, or aubergines, are loading farmers markets stalls right now (their season runs from June to September, sometimes October). These baby Chinese and Thai eggplants, pale Purple Blush and glossy black Italian eggplants were spilling across Jaime Farms' tables at yesterday's Santa Monica farmers market. “The specialty guys like the little ones,” says Edgar Jaime. “They roast them whole.”
Which is precisely what Roden suggests for many of the eggplant recipes in both her 2007 book Arabesque, and The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, the 2005 update of her 1968 classic. Roasting the vegetables whole is a simple method, requiring only a 475 degree oven, a cookie sheet, and about an hour. It may heat your kitchen up a bit, but it's easy and doesn't require the vat of oil that frying or sauteing the cut vegetables, which sop up liquid like little sponges, can often take.
Once the roasted eggplants are cool, peel them, drain the soft interior bits in a colander, and then mash the results with a fork. From there, you can make any of a catalog of dips and sauces (Roden has quite a few in both books). My favorite is simply to mix the stuff with a good deal of fried garlic, hefty pours of red wine vinegar and evoo (extra virgin olive oil), and plenty of sea salt and black pepper. (Baatinjan Bi Khal; p. 259, Arabesque.) Serve with toasted pita bread and some chopped parsley. If you want explosions, there's quite enough of that, sadly, on CNN.