Fried eggplant is meltingly tender, to be sure, but baked eggplant can be just as tender and tempting, without the hassle and grease of frying. To keep things as tasty as can be, use a two-pronged method of 1) brining the eggplant first to help it hold its shape and remove any excess bitterness, and then 2) lightly spraying or brushing the eggplant slices with oil to get them nicely browned as they bake. Want something crispy? Try Oven-Fried Eggplant.
This recipe obviously doubles and triples as needed. Work in batches as dictated by oven space and access to baking sheets.
- Cut the eggplant into whatever shapes and sizes you prefer, being sure to trim off and discard the stem and the ends.
- In a large bowl, dissolve the salt in about 1/2 cup warm water. Once the salt is fully dissolved, add 4 to 6 cups of cool water. Put in the eggplant slices or wedges, sticks, or chunks in the salt water. Set a plate or pot lid that is slightly smaller than the top of the bowl on the eggplant pieces to keep them submerged. Let sit about 30 minutes.*
- Meanwhile, preheat an oven to 375F. After the eggplant has soaked, drain it, and pat the pieces thoroughly dry with paper towels. Lay the eggplant on a baking sheet (or sheets, depending on how much eggplant you decided to cook; the pieces should be in a single layer, not overlapping at all, and with at least a bit of space between them to bake evenly and attractively) and lightly brush or spray with oil. Turn all the pieces over and brush or spray the other side(s). Bake until the downside has browned nicely, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn all the pieces over and bake until that side is browned, too, about 10 more minutes.
Use the baked eggplant in a recipe (like Eggplant Parmesan or Eggplant Tomato Basil Salad) or serve them on their own sprinkled with salt, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, or topped with chopped tomatoes and/or basil.
* Why are you soaking the eggplant in salt water? It's called brining, and it uses the power of osmosis to help the eggplant hold onto the moisture in it while it cooks, which is turn helps it keep its shape instead of collapsing into a mushy mess. As a side benefit, it also seasons the eggplant nicely. It's an optional step—you could just cut the eggplant, brush it with oil, and bake it—but I promise that it is a very worthwhile one.