CARTHAGE, Mo. —
It’s eggplant time. I can’t get enough of this gorgeous piece of produce. If a vegetable could be described as voluptuous, the dark and lovely eggplant would be it.
It is commonly known by its elegant French name “aubergine” in other parts of the world, which seems like a more fitting name than the dumpy “eggplant.” Early cultivars were small and light in color, so they resembled eggs. If only that farmer had known that aubergine would become the name of a color that snooty folks in the 21st century would give to their interior decorators. It sounds so much more glamorous than eggplant. C’est la vie.
When nearly everything in my garden is finished producing, the eggplant prevails. The tiny black mystery bugs that are usually a problem for my eggplant weren’t around this year, because of to the heat I presume. While I pick cracked cherry tomatoes to roast, the eggplant continues to grow. When I give my solitary watermelon a once over to check for ripeness, the eggplant waits. As I pick a tiny sunburned pepper, the eggplant shines on its spiky stem, taunting me. I can’t wait any longer. I grab its firm, shiny body and twist it off its woody stem.
Eggplant has gotten a bad reputation for being labor intensive to prepare. Traditional recipes demanded that eggplant be peeled, salted, drained and rinsed before use. No more. Modern cultivars are not as bitter. However, keep in mind that eggplant is like a sponge. Without the salting process, eggplant soaks up a lot of oil and sauce, making for a very rich, flavorful and hearty dish. It makes a great main course for a meatless meal.
I don’t know of a vegetable more versatile than eggplant. It’s used in cuisine around the world. My favorites are the Greek casserole-like mousakka, Middle Eastern baba ghanoush, which is a creamy dip, and of course Italy’s eggplant Parmesan. In my book, eggplant Parmesan is kind of cheating. One could fry nearly anything and cover it with cheese and marinara and it would be amazing.
I hate the extra step of salting eggplant, so I adapted a couple of recipes where the eggplant soaks up oils and sauces that are good for you.
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium squash, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cups eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons white wine or broth
Fresh basil or oregano (to be added right before serving)
In a large skillet, sautŽ onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once onion is soft, stir in remaining ingredients, plus 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat. Cover the pan and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Cook an additional 5 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates. Stir occasionally. Stir in the fresh herbs and you’re all set. Serve hot or cold.
Eggplant feta dip
2 medium eggplants, peeled and chopped
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup mint, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Toss eggplant with 2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast on a baking sheet for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. While eggplant is cooling, combine yogurt, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add eggplant, chickpeas, feta and mint. Toss to combine. Serve with whole-wheat pita slices and veggies.
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