I am aware that I may isolate many sane readers who will question the practicality of buying many miniature eggplants. Especially as they are preciously named after a childhood ideal that conjures up strong, white steeds and ladies with impossible hair. Furthermore, I suspect at first pass my addition of vanilla is not going to win over very many hearts.
Bear with me. My thirty-one years have left me nothing if not at least a little wiser. And also comfortably aware that most of the bow-tied stories we sell are hooey. Unless, of course, your fantasy includes a woman alone in the kitchen with an eggplant à la Laurie Colwin-style. Then you’ve got a real shot, friend. (Unless, of course, you have children. Then your chances are probably back to make-believe.)
The fairytale eggplant is a facsimile of your standard aubergine, except it’s shrunken to an eighth its size and is often found violet-hued, antiqued with white streaks. When cooked, they collapse and shrivel slightly away from their skin, poetically turning brown along the way.
I find them much simpler to manage than the football-shaped grocery store Italian variety. Which makes them fast charmers. They are a low grill risk for becoming charred beyond pleasurable consumption and simultaneously tough. They are not bitter. Their skins are thin and edible and their flesh, soft.
Thus, no salting, no skinning, and minimal swearing in the kitchen. So I prefer them, despite their name. And there may come a time when you find yourself face to face with some. You’ll want to be ready.
I have a fairly standard vegetable treatment, which includes olive oil, more salt than recommended by the American Heart Association, fresh lime, and cilantro. If you have cardamom and cumin, it's wise to employ them. And—I swear—adding a little vanilla adds intensity and softness, especially paired with the smokiness of the grill.
Since I am without open flames this summer, I can assure roasting will do in a pinch. What should result is small, slumped, deeply flavored eggplants. They are good hot out of the pan. They are wonderful eaten all by their lonesome. Or on toast. And probably sing tossed into a cold pasta salad. When chilled they act as a marinated vegetable and behave wonderfully this way.
So you make the marinade. You toss the fairytales. You roast. You eat. And you all live happily ever after. At least until it's time to do the dishes.
Cardamom Cilantro Fairytale Eggplants
10 fairytale eggplants, sliced lengthwise
juice of ½ a lime
5 or 6 cardamom pods, shells smashed and discarded and seeds ground
pinch cumin seed, ground
4 to 6 tbsp olive oil (start with less and add more as needed)
kosher salt, to taste
3 to 4 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
½ tsp vanilla extract
splash of orange blossom or rosewater
Set the oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, spices, olive oil, and pinch of salt. Add in the cilantro and remaining extracts. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you see fit.
On a sheet pan, toss the eggplant halves well in the marinade until fully covered and glossy. (You’ll need enough oil so they can slide around to help prevent sticking to the pan.) Sprinkle a bit more salt over them.
Roast for about 30 minutes, until they are tender, have turned brown, and are starting to slightly shrivel.
Serve warm or chilled.
Makes enough for about 4 as a side
-I usually leave the stems on, but wouldn’t recommend eating them. Quite woody.
-If you don’t have whole cardamom you can use ground; start with a pinch. I use a mortar and pestle to do the smashing and grinding for both the cardamom and cumin seed.