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Roasted Chinese Eggplants with Olive & Tomato Salsa

I have never understood how someone could dislike eggplants. They are, to my mind, one of the most amazing vegetables (though they are technically a fruit) around: creamy when fried or slow-cooked, chewy when grilled, meaty when roasted… And the flavor itself is nothing short of miraculous in the summer, when the markets are filled with eggplants in every shade of purple and white, some plain, others streaked zebra or graffiti. I adore eggplants, and I believe anyone who says they don’t like them has never tasted a truly good specimen.

Here is one of the simplest ways to enjoy eggplant. I borrowed the flavors for the salsa from one I tasted in Liguria, but made mine bolder by adding raw onions and a touch of chili. If you favor more delicate flavors, top the eggplant with the salsa halfway through baking so it loses its direct potency, and finish with tiny dice of fresh Mozzarella when serving.

Chinese eggplants (and Japanese eggplants, which are quite similar) are slender and long, with few seeds and a sweet flavor. They have a thin skin, cook through faster than Western varieties, and are a good starter eggplant for anyone with a timid palate. Japanese eggplants are darker in hue than Chinese, and will work just as well in this recipe; use whatever variety looks good at the market.

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Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish

For the eggplants:

  • 4 Chinese (or Japanese) eggplants, halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

For the salsa:

  • 1 large ripe beefsteak tomato, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/2 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 8 black olives, pitted and minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • 12 basil leaves, very thinly sliced

Make the eggplants: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (preferably set on convection bake). Lay the eggplant halves, cut side up, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cut a cross-hatch pattern into each eggplant half, barely scoring the flesh. Brush with the olive oil and season with the salt. Roast in the preheated oven 30 minutes, or until tender and creamy when pierced with a knife; the eggplants should still hold their shape. If using western eggplant varieties, the cooking time will be longer.

Make the salsa: In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients and taste for salt. Adjust as needed.

To serve: Spoon the salsa over the warm eggplants and serve.

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