This recipe is one of the earliest memories I have of cooking. Sprinkling salt on the eggplant slices and watching them ‘sweat’ out their bitterness fascinated me to no end. It was a simple but important job and one I took very seriously – isn’t it funny the things you remember? Eggplant tiganites are a staple menu item and often served as appetizers, or meze, in Greece. My favorite is to layer them between two pieces of bread for lunch. They’re wonderful anytime really!
The secret to this recipe – the simple batter coating that turns to a delicious golden crisp and protects the tender eggplant from becoming greasy. The result is melt-in-your mouth amazing. Probably not something often said about the unassuming eggplant but absolutely true.
I like to use your basic deep purple, short, squat eggplant as opposed to thinner, longer shaped varieties. They make nice big slices and don’t worry about their being a bit tougher. The salt, along with puling out any bitterness, will also help to make the meat more tender. When slicing your eggplant, try to keep a uniform thickness as it makes for more even cooking.
Lay out slices in a single layer and sprinkle lightly with salt. Allow them to sit and ‘sweat’ for at least a 1/2 hour while you prepare the batter and get set up to fry. And remember to rinse off the eggplant well before cooking. Please don’t be tempted to skip the ‘sweating’ step. It makes a huge difference in your final product.
Choose a pan with a good size diameter as you want your eggplant slices to have room between them when cooking. A crowded pan makes for soggy slices! Having a pan with higher sides is helpful also as is cuts down on oil sputters and spatters.
Once you’ve mixed the batter in a mixing bowl, transfer it to a low sided pan. This will give you plenty of room for dipping and flipping your eggplant to get a good coating. And a regular dinner fork is the best tool here. The better coated your eggplant slices are, the higher they’ll puff up and the more tender the eggplant flesh will be so really get them in there.
And I want to stress – it’s really important to use bubbly/sparkling water in the batter. It gives a lightness to the fried eggplant that you just won’t get with flat water. I like seltzer but in Greece many times cooks use soda water instead. If you want to use soda water, just halve the amount of salt.
This next part is my dad’s frying setup and I follow it exactly. It’s arranged to get your eggplant through it’s paces quickly and cleanly:
- sliced/sweated/rinsed eggplants on the far left, low sided baking pan of batter in the center, high sided pan with hot oil on the right, paper towel lined plate on the end
- 2 medium eggplants sliced/sweated/rinsed
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Batter – Mix all ingredients together to a smooth paste
- 2 cups AP flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups seltzer or other sparkling water
Heat olive oil in pan on low heat. I have an induction stove top and cook this recipe on 3.
Dip eggplant slices in batter, coat both sides well, place carefully into hot oil. Cook 3-4 minutes on each side to a light golden color. Place cooked eggplant onto a paper towel lined plate to drain off any excess oil.
Continue cooking in batches of 4-5 slices until done.
I suggest moving the pan off the heat in between batches so that your oil won’t get too hot or start smoking. 1/2 cup oil should keep you for 2 medium eggplants but it doesn’t hurt to have an extra tablespoon or two to add if you need it. And remove any left behind little bits of batter from the oil in between batches so they don’t burn.
Serve warm or room temperature. If reheating, don’t microwave as they’ll be soggy. Instead, wrap eggplant slices in foil paper and heat in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Enjoy!