A traditional Dominican side dish, Berenjenas Asadas (Roasted Eggplants) is a luscious, smoky and decidedly grown-up dish. Perfect for vegetarians too.
One of the things we Dominicans are most grateful for is to have discovered eggplants (scientific name: Solanum melongena) as a daily staple, as proven by the popularity of berenjenas asadas (roasted eggplants). Eggplants or aubergines are delicious, versatile and cheap. They grow all year round and complement every dish. They are fondly known as “the poor person’s meat”.
Eggplants are in fact fruits, not vegetables. They are closely related to potatoes and tomatoes and belong to the Solanaceae family. Aubergine stems tend to be thorny, and that fact has given rise to the Spanish saying “meterse en un berenjenal” which means something like getting into trouble.
Eggplants can be round, long or cylindrical and come in a whole spectrum of colours, from white to black, going through all shades of violet and purple. No matter what colour, aubergine skin is always shiny, firm and smooth to the touch.
Eggplants are originally from India and other Asian countries, where they have been grown for centuries. They were eaten in ancient Egypt, but appear to have been unknown in ancient Greece and Rome, as there is no mention of eggplants in any of the known ancient gastronomic texts. The Arabs brought them to the Iberian peninsula in the middle ages, and from there, their fame spread to the rest of the world.
In ancient times it seems that eggplants were not eaten for their vitamin content or nutritional qualities, but for medicinal purposes: they are recommended for their diuretic and laxative qualities, and for arthritis sufferers due to their mineral content.
Their calcium content means eggplants are effective against rickets, dental cavities, and other bone ailments. They are also good as a treatment for rheumatism, as well as diabetes and skin complaints.
In general, eggplants are digestible, nutritious and have laxative properties. They should be eaten ripe, never unripe or raw, because the raw fruits contain solanine, a toxic substance that is destroyed in the cooking process. Not bad for a fruit with just 25 calories, composed of 90% water.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to the vast range of eggplants-based dishes. Here in the D.R., there is much creativity: besides this dish of roasted eggplants with eggs, it goes from typical fried slices to oriental tempura. Depending on how they are prepared, eggplants make an excellent main dish, or a side dish accompanying meat or fish.
A very Dominican dish would be stewed aubergines with pork: few things surpass this for taste. Try them scrambled with egg or sweet red peppers, in salads or appetizers, á la vinaigrette, caponata, with cream or au gratin, or a la parmigiana. In savory bakes, use minced beef or cheese as a filling. Eggplants go well with ripe plantains in a tropical savory bake. Life would not be complete without trying an eggplant lasagna, eggplant casserole, eggplant roulade, or eggplants cannelloni. Leave a little room for the meatballs and don’t miss out on stuffed ones.Himilce Tejada
Himilce Tejada is a Dominican cookery and lifestyle writer for several magazines and newspapers. This was originally published by Diario Libre Newspaper, and translated by Aunt Ilana. Reproduced with permission from the author.
Berenjenas Asadas Recipe (Roasted Eggplants)
- 4 large eggplants
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 large onion , chopped
- 1 bell pepper cut into small cubes
- 4 plum tomatoes cut into small cubes
- 3 cloves of garlic , sliced
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/4 teaspoon of salt , or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon of pepper , or to taste
- 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro (or parsley, optional)
- Roasting: Put the eggplants directly on the fire on your stove. When the side on the fire has blackened turn, and repeat until the whole eggplant has turned black. Right after removing from the heat, please in a bowl and cover with a lid. Let them rest until they have all cooled to room temperature.
- Peeling: Once cooled, remove and discard the peel. Cut the ends with a knife.
- Mashing: Using two forks, shred, and mash the eggplant. The final consistency is a matter of taste, so mash as much or as little as you like. Set aside.
- Cooking: Heat oil over low heat in a skillet or pan. Cook and stir the onions until they turn translucent. Add the bell pepper, tomatoes and garlic. Cook and stir for a minute. Add the eggplants, cover, and simmer until most of the liquid it releases has evaporated. Add the eggs, cook and stir until the eggs set.
- Seasoning: Season with pepper and salt to taste. Add the cilantro or parsley and stir.
- Serving: Remove from the heat. Serve hot as a side dish, or as a main dish.