Recipe: Whole Roasted Eggplant
Last summer and again this summer, I took our daughter, Liana, to Bogota, Colombia, where I was born and where my brother, sister-in-law, and their two delicious daughters live. I take her not because I like to challenge myself to a 6-hour flight, alone, with a toddler (shout out to playAGAIN’s Lisa Zaretsky and our very own Jennie Monness for their invaluable flight tips! Nothing like a fresh roll of green painters tape to pass the time . . .) but because it’s important to me for Liana to spend time with her cousins, immersed in Spanish language, and surrounded by a change of scenery and pace for a few weeks every year.
One early Bogota morning, Sophie, my sister-in-law, took us on a field trip to Paloquemao, a sprawling market that brings together fruits, vegetables, flowers, seafood, meat, eggs, legumes, and on, and on, and on from all over the country.
It is sensory overload, a mecca for foodies, and one of the best ways to experience Colombia’s bounty and diversity. There are entire sections devoted to plantains in shades of dark green to speckled yellow, zones for eggs from different breeds and of different shapes and colors, kiosks devoted just to the tropical fruits of the Caribbean, and some of the nicest people willing to give our three little girls a taste of nearly anything they pointed to.
We had mango de azucar (sugar mangos) the size of baseballs whose short harvest season on the coast of Colombia makes them prized not only for their scarcity but also for their intoxicating sweetness. The look on Liana’s face when she took her first bite was worth the trip alone.
We asked each of the girls to pick out a few things to take home to cook and eat over the next few days. Dani, my niece, picked strawberries that were as huge as they were sweet as well as fresh baby corn and bean sprouts that made for a tremendous stir fry. Perla, her sister, picked granadia--a fruit that resembles very sweet passion fruit and that my dad calls elephant boogers for its snotty texture. And Liana? A pair of glossy purple eggplants.
Later that night, we roasted them whole in the oven until they nearly collapsed. We scooped out the silky, smoky flesh and seasoned it with olive oil, lemon juice, and a good pinch of coarse salt. The girls--fine, all of us--devoured it by the spoonful in part because it was so so delicious but also in part because, well, it was part of the day’s adventure--a point of pride and the entire night’s conversation.
Back in Manhattan, the only mango we can find is imported and plantains are as hard to get as a spot in Dionne’s 12:30 class. But the Greenmarket is teeming with eggplants of all shapes and colors, and recreating this dish gives us an excuse to talk about everything we saw, smelled, and tasted in Bogota. And to look ahead to next year’s adventure.
Whole Roasted Eggplant
+ 2 large eggplants
+ Olive oil
+ 1 lemon
+ Coarse sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the eggplants on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Do not pierce them, score them, or remove the stem. Just let them be!
Roast in the oven for 1 hour, untouched, until the eggplants begin to collapse and a knife pierced through the skin has no resistance.
Remove from the oven and split the eggplants down the middle lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop the flesh onto a large plate. Season generously with olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt to taste. Eat warm.
(If you want to gussy this up, dress with a spoonful of tahini or mix into a bright tomato salad. For younger babies, puree or leave as is--minus the salt.)