Bold and Beautiful

Eggplant comes in colors ranging from albino white to midnight purple, and in shapes from Gwyneth Paltrow skinny to Rubenesquely rotund. Its shiny skin belies a bitter flesh, but once you give it a little help, it’s just as lovely on the inside as it is on the outside. Here are three ways to celebrate the complex flavors and meaty texture of this summer beauty.

Some cooks salt eggplant before cooking it in order to leach out water and bitterness. Just slice or cube the eggplant, put it in a colander and sprinkle generously with salt. Let it sit for an hour, then use a paper towel to pat dry and remove excess salt.

Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Pine Nuts
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve 4 1-pound eggplants lengthwise. Arrange in a large baking dish, cut sides up. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned. In a small bowl, mix 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1½ teaspoons cumin and 1½ teaspoons sweet paprika. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 1 cup chopped onion and half the spice mixture, cover and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add 1 pound ground lamb and cook 4 minutes longer. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered fat. Stir in 3 tablespoons pine nuts, 2 teaspoons tomato paste, 1∕8 cup chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the filling onto the eggplant. In the small bowl with the remaining spices, whisk together ½ cup water, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon molasses, 2 teaspoons of sugar and a pinch each of salt and pepper and pour into the baking dish. Add 1 cinnamon stick. Cover the dish with foil. Bake for 50 minutes, basting with the pan juices, until very tender. Transfer the eggplant to a platter and discard the cinnamon stick. Pour the pan juices over the eggplant and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Sichuan Eggplant with Pork
In a bowl, mix ½ pound ground pork with 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry. In a wok or large skillet with a lid, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over high heat until smoking. Add 1 tablespoon chili-bean sauce, 2 to 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger and a pinch of salt, and cook over high heat until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the pork and stir-fry until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 pound Japanese eggplant cut into ¾-inch cubes, and stir-fry until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 tablespoon soy sauce and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Stir in ½ cup chicken broth, cover and cook over moderate heat until the eggplant is tender, about 10 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. In a small bowl, make a slurry by mixing 2 teaspoons cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water. Add to wok. Stir until the sauce thickens, about 15 seconds. Drizzle 1 teaspoon sesame oil over the eggplant and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and chopped scallions.

Eggplant, Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush two rimmed baking sheets with olive oil. Slice 1 eggplant into ¼-inch rounds and arrange in a single layer on the sheets. Brush tops with additional oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until eggplant is tender, about 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. On a serving platter, layer 1-pound sliced tomatoes, followed by 1 pound sliced mozzarella and then the roasted eggplant. Top with ½ cup fresh torn basil leaves. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 minced garlic clove, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Drizzle over the dish.