Many older recipes call for salting raw eggplant before cooking it to temper the vegetable’s tendency toward bitterness. These days the bitterness has largely been bred out, but salting eggplant is still a good way to reduce the amount of oil that this versatile vegetable absorbs. For even more aroma and herbaceous flavor, add fresh mint and cilantro leaves to the basil for garnish.
4 Japanese eggplant or other small, oblong eggplant, about 1 lb.
Kosher salt, to taste
One can (14 oz) whole plum tomatoes with juices
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
2 tablespoons minced preserved lemon peel
Trim the eggplant and cut into halves or thick slices. Put the eggplant into a colander, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and toss to coat evenly. Set the colander in a sink and let the eggplant stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the tomatoes and their juices into a bowl and crush the tomatoes with your hand or a potato masher. Set aside.
In a large sauté pan or wok over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil and garlic, swirling the pan to flavor the oil, until the garlic starts to sizzle but does not color, about 1 minute. Add the salted eggplant and stir until well coated. Pour in 1/4 cup water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the eggplant is tender, about 10 minutes. Uncover and gently stir in the tomatoes, cumin, paprika and coriander. Increase the heat to medium-high and let cook at a brisk simmer, shaking the pan occasionally, until the tomatoes thicken, about 10 minutes longer.
Remove from the heat and discard the garlic, if desired. Transfer the eggplant to a serving dish and sprinkle with the basil leaves and the preserved lemon. Serve warm or at room temperature.