Eggplant can be fried, blanched, stewed, boiled, baked or stuffed, but Efi Nahon especially loves the way the fruit tastes when roasted.
“It’s a beautiful smoky flavor,” says Nahon, executive chef at Bustan (487 Amsterdam Ave., 212-595-5050, bustannyc.com), a contemporary pan-Mediterranean restaurant on the Upper West Side. “It keeps it very white inside like a piece of steak or fish.”
Bustan has a few eggplant dishes on its menu, but the fire-roasted whole eggplant with coconut milk and vadouvan sauce is quite popular.
“We’re doing almost a case of eggplant a day just for that,” says the chef.
To make it at home, Nahon recommends buying medium-sized Sicilian eggplants, which hold up well on top of the stove or grill.
“There’s much more white and much less seeds in the eggplant,” Nahon said. “If you burn it on the grill, it stays the same size.”
Of course, if you can’t find Sicilian, any eggplant would do, as long as it’s not too light.
Whether roasting on the stovetop or grill, you want to char the skin over a flame so it gets black and burnt on the outside. Warning: This will get messy, with burnt peel flying and juices running. Nahon recommends putting aluminum foil under your stovetop burner to help catch the juice from the eggplant. To avoid the mess entirely, you can also roast the eggplant, wrapped in foil, in your oven for about 12-15 minutes, though you’re not going to get the same smoky flavor. Once grilled, the eggplant is peeled and kept whole, including the stem and a circle of skin surrounding it.
Nahon adds some Indian flavor to the Mediterranean dish with vadouvan, a French-Indian spice mixture available in most gourmet stores (the chef gets his from La Boîte in Hell’s Kitchen), which is heated in a saucepan with coconut milk and then blended with Greek yogurt (Nahon likes Fage).
The whole eggplant is then topped with the sauce, as well as olive oil, cashews and arugula or mint leaves, for a small plate that looks impressive. It’s also healthy, thanks to the fiber-rich eggplant and antioxidant phytochemicals in its skin, and seasonal.
“I live in Astoria and I see [eggplant] everywhere,” Nahon said. “It’s in season now, the prices really went down.”
6 medium Sicilian eggplants, or any eggplant if not available
1 qt. coconut milk
3 tbsp. vadouvan
1 tbsp. thick Greek yogurt
5 tbsp. cashews, toasted and chopped
3 red radishes, thinly sliced and soaked in cold water
Micro arugula leaves, or fresh mint leaves if not available
Extra virgin olive oil
1. On an open flame on a stovetop or grill, rotate each eggplant to char the entire skin — about 7-10 minutes depending on the size of the eggplant — and until completely soft. Transfer to a plastic tray to cool for 5 minutes.
2. Using a small knife and your fingers, peel the skin from each eggplant, keeping it whole (including the stem). Once peeled, keep warm. Chef’s note: Do not use water to clean the eggplants, as it will erase the smoky flavor.
3. Pour coconut milk and vadouvan into a saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste.
4. Using a hand mixer, blend this sauce with the Greek yogurt.
5. To plate, place each eggplant in the center of a dish and pour a small ladle of sauce over them. Sprinkle cashews, radish and arugula or mint leaves on top. Drizzle with olive oil and top with a dash of good sea salt.