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Microwave can't roast eggplants

The Baltimore Sun

I want to make baba ghannouj. Can I roast the eggplants in the microwave?

Roasting an eggplant whole is the easiest way to turn its flesh into a soft, succulent puree - the base for baba ghannouj and other eggplant salads. But it cannot be accomplished in a microwave oven.

Unlike the ambient heat generated by conventional ovens, so-called microwaves penetrate only about 1 1/2 inches into foods. If you microwaved a ball of rice that was 3 inches in diameter - about the size of a baseball - the center would get hot because the center is only 1 1/2 inches from the surface. But the center of a softball-size ball of rice would stay cold.

Microwaves have another drawback: They don't brown. You can nuke something forever in a microwave, and it will never develop a crust, let alone a char. That browning, crusting action is precisely what you want to give your roasted eggplant a smoky flavor.

The classic method for roasting eggplant is to place it directly on a gas burner and to turn it, with tongs, until it is completely black. An easier method is to cook it on a charcoal or gas grill, or on a baking sheet in a 450-degree oven, until it is well charred in spots, has lost its shape and is completely soft to the touch. Pricking the eggplant all over before roasting it will prevent it from exploding from the buildup of steam.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday. E-mail your queries to burningquestions@newsday.com, or send them to Erica Marcus, Food/Part 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747-4250.

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