I typically roast whole eggplant on the stovetop or an outdoor grill, remove the charred skin and serve the soft, slightly smoky flesh with green onion oil and a dipping sauce of fish sauce and garlic, a Viet classic called cà tím nướng mỡhành. When I learned that eggplant skin is loaded with antioxidants, I began thinking about how I could tweak the popular side dish to retain the skin.
Surprisingly, microwaving the entire eggplant proved to be the best way to effortlessly and evenly cook the purple orbs to a wonderful plush texture and sweet flavor. The skin is chewy-tender and very pleasant to eat. See the Notes for a stove-top steamer method. To season with delicate sweet smokiness, I made a rich green onion topping with garlic, fish sauce, and Spanish smoked paprika (sold in the spice aisle of many markets). The result is a new rendition that’s easy, healthful, and delicious in its own right.
1 medium eggplant
2½ tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce, or scant 1½ tablespoons soy sauce
⅓ cup thinly sliced green onion, green and white parts
Fine sea salt
Peel off the pointy flaps of the eggplant cap but leave the stem intact, then, using a fork, poke the eggplant twelve to sixteen times all over. Put the eggplant on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for about 6 minutes, until soft, a bit deflated looking and cooked through (poke a knife into the thickest part). If you’re unsure, cook for another minute or so. Let the eggplant sit at room temperature for five or six minutes, or until cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the canola oil and smoked paprika. After 3 to 4 minutes, when the oil is fragrant, hot, and deep orange color, add the garlic and fish sauce. Let bubble and sizzle for roughly 10 seconds to combine and lightly cook the garlic, then add the green onion, stir, and, when softened (another 10 seconds, no more), remove from the heat. Let cool for a few minutes before tasting; if needed, add salt, a pinch at a time, to obtain a robust, savory finish. Set the sauce aside.
Trim the stem end of the eggplant and cut the eggplant lengthwise into slices, each a good ½ inch thick. Cut each slice lengthwise into long spears as wide as your thumb. Leave as dramatic spears, or cut them crosswise to more easily maneuver. Transfer the pears to a serving plate, leaving behind the goopy liquid that the eggplant naturally releases. Top the eggplant spears with the sauce, This recipe is one of my favorite meals.