This dish is my idea of a one-size-fits-all appetizer for the holidays.
The good news is that the eggplant is pan-fried — not deep-fried — and vegetarian, so it’s still reasonably healthy.
Buying fresh eggplants is key. Whatever its size — and they range from thin Asian strains to big and bulbous Italian-Americans — an eggplant should have a very shiny skin and be firm and smooth to the touch.
Cook it as soon as possible. Eggplants don’t like the refrigerator; they tend to deteriorate quickly in the cold.
I chose small eggplants because I wanted one-bite tastes. But if all you can find is the larger ones, just slice them into rounds, then cut the rounds into quarters. The eggplant’s blandness makes it a terrific host for spices. I went Middle Eastern here, you could roll them with a curry or Cajun mix, or with chopped dried herbs.
One note about the breading procedure: knock off the excess flour, let the excess egg mixture drip off and tap off the extra breadcrumbs. If you don’t, you’ll have an over-breaded slice of eggplant and too few crumbs.
Fried Spiced Eggplant With Cucumber-Garlic Sauce
Serves 6. About 1/2 pound of a larger eggplant can be substituted, but cut it into 1⁄3-inch-thick slices then into quarters. Proceed as directed in the recipe.
1 small eggplant (1/2 pound and about 2 inches wide), cut crosswise into 1⁄3-inch-thick slices
2 tbls. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne (to taste)
1 large egg
1 tbl. water
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
21/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2-inch piece seedless cucumber
1/2 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
1 small clove garlic, minced
Chopped fresh parsley, to garnish
1. Heat oven to 350 F. Sprinkle eggplant slices lightly on both sides with salt. Transfer to a large colander, set in the sink and let drain for 15 minutes.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cumin, paprika and cayenne. In a second bowl, whisk egg and water. Place breadcrumbs in a third bowl.
3. Pat eggplant slices dry. One at a time, dip each slice first in the flour, shaking off the excess, then the egg, letting excess liquid drip off, then the breadcrumbs, knocking off excess crumbs (they will clump).
4. In a large skillet over high, heat 11/2 tablespoons of oil. Add eggplant slices, reduce heat to medium and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Flip slices, add remaining tablespoon of oil and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer slices to a sheet pan. Bake on oven’s middle shelf until tender (a knife will go through them easily), about 15 minutes.
5. While eggplant is baking, coarsely grate cucumber. In a small bowl, combine grated cucumber with yogurt, garlic and a bit of salt.
6. To serve, transfer eggplant slices to a platter and top each with a generous spoonful of yogurt sauce. Sprinkle with parsley.
Nutrition information per serving: 140 calories (60 calories from fat = 43 percent of total calories); 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated; 0 gram trans fats); 30 milligrams cholesterol; 16 grams carbohydrate (2 grams fiber; 2 grams sugar); 4 grams protein; 220 milligrams sodium.