Spicy Crispy Eggplant

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This is an easy recipe, with a lot of words, because eggplants are a bit unpredictable, and there is room for playing around. 

There is the temptation here to cook these on an open grill, but unless you are very good with heat management, the results are dicey.  Also possible to broil instead of bake.  Variety of crispness is possible, but for our family, I do not blacken. 

I use a rimmed cookie sheet and can fit two of these in the oven.  If you put more than two in the oven then there is too much moisture from the eggplant.  You will want enough eggplant to cover the cookie sheets.  

The eggplant:  I have tried this with all sorts of eggplants with a variety of heritages, from small fresh off the plant to large from the store.  There is some lack of predictability in how they will cook.  The most reliable results come from a ¼ inch to 3/8 inch slice.  ½ inch is too thick.  A thinner slice can be used to make more of a crisp, but when the slices get thin, sometimes they dry, collapse, and tend to burn.  

The cooking: Here I go with baking as the standard, but broiling makes for a drier, top cooked eggplant.  Grilling on open fire generally leads to a drier eggplant, and burning is hard to control – because of the dripping oil.

Preheat oven to 375F-400F.  Using a pastry brush put a good layer of oil on the cookie sheet.  Slice eggplant and set on the oiled cookied sheet – again, on the thick side of ¼ inch.  Take 2-3 ounces of olive oil and mix with ~ ½ teaspoon of dried garlic powder and ¼ – ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper.  Paint the top side of the eggplant with the oil mixture.  Salt the eggplant – eggplant takes a lot of salt, but it is easy to over salt.  (Alternatively, you can simply sprinkle eggplant with salt, cayenne, and garlic, then just use oil.)  Place in the oven.

There is some art here, as each eggplant seems to cook differently, but I would count on an hour.  I usually cook these in advance to make sure they are ready on time.  Let them cook about 20-30 minutes.  The browning is often the fastest on the side toward the pan, that is, they fry-roast.  There is a tendency to stick, so it is good to loosen them with a spatula.  After about 20 minutes, I paint the upper side with oil, and then flip them.  Then I paint the top with more of the oil, cayenne, and garlic mixture.  If the eggplant still seem very moist and not too brown, I turn the heat up to 450F.  Put back into the oven and watch, usually 10-20 more minutes – but they can sneak up on you, especially the thinner slices.  Cook until they are the brown that you like.

You can reduce the oil painting, and get a drier, crisper product.

Place on a platter and eat hot or cold.  Yogurt or tzatziki makes a good cooling side. If cold, then they are better cooked a little dry.

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