Monday, December 14, 2009

Those Funny-Looking Vegetables Called Eggplants

The cookbook that I just received as a gift got me thinking about eggplant since there seem to be more recipes in it using that particular ingredient than any other. I really like cooking eggplants because they are inexpensive and have a mild flavor that goes well with lots of other foods. They are an interesting and delicious ingredient that a lot of folks don't really know what to do with aside from the usual eggplant Parmesan, so I'm going to include a couple of my own recipes that will hopefully give you some new inspiration.

Eggplants come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. In the summer, I like to pick up all sorts of different kinds from Allandale Farm near my home. Even my local supermarket usually carries a couple of different kinds all year round. I especially like the small Chinese variety because it has fewer seeds and seems to be a little less bitter. The plant, in fact, is native to Asia and has been used for centuries there as a staple. A typical Chinese preparation involves stir frying the sliced eggplant with lots of garlic and finishing with hoisin sauce. Its also commonly used in Thai curries to thicken and add depth of flavor. I ate tiny eggplants in Japan that were topped with miso and roasted - WOW!

Though we think of them as vegetables, eggplants are technically fruits that could be loosely considered large berries. The leaves are not eaten because they have a strong bitter taste. They are in the same family of plants as potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco, chili peppers, and belladonna (poisonous nightshade). From a nutritional standpoint, they are high in dietary fiber and low in carbohydrates, and have no fat. They are great to eat if you are watching your weight, as long as you don't stuff them with cheese or cream!

Here's my own quick and easy recipe for Baba Ghanouj, the Middle-Eastern eggplant dip. I usually make a large batch to eat with pita bread over the course of a week. It's tasty, filling, healthy, and makes a great appetizer right out of the fridge when you can't wait for dinner.

CQ's Baba Ghanouj

2 large "European" style eggplants
1 tablespoon tahini (sesame paste)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
salt and pepper
  1. Slice the eggplants into 4 long wedges, brush them with a good amount of olive oil and season them generously with salt. Roast them in a 400˚ oven for about 35 to 40 minutes or until they are brown and soft.
  2. Once the eggplants have cooled, use a spoon or your hands to remove the meat from the bitter skins into a mixing bowl. The eggplant should come away from the skin very easily, if not, return it to the oven to roast a little more. Discard the skins.
  3. Combine the cooked eggplant with the tahini, lemon juice, and garlic and mash with a fork or a potato masher.
  4. Swirl in your best olive oil to reach the desired consistency and correct seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve with pita bread for dipping.
The next recipe is my version of a New Orleans restaurant classic called Eggplant Pirogue. It's named for the small shallow skiff that Cajun fisherman use to traverse the bayous looking for crab, shrimp, crawfish, and whatever else comes along that looks tasty. This makes a great fish or main course at a dinner party and inevitably draws oohs and aahs when taken from the oven. It is obviously not low calorie but is fantastically delicious!

Eggplant Pirogue

1 large "European" style eggplant
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 small can of crab meat (fresh is better, but pricey)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar or Gruyere
1/2 cup white wine or dry vermouth
1/2 cup fish stock
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup Pernod
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon AP flour
1 Bay leaf
salt and pepper
olive oil
  1. Slice the eggplant in half. Using a pairing knife or spoon hollow out the insides and dice the meat that you remove. Brush the eggplant halves with olive oil, season generously with salt, and roast in a 400˚ oven for about 20 minutes. They should be almost completely cooked, but still hold their shape. Cooking time will vary depending on how much eggplant you scooped out and how big the eggplants are.
  2. In a sturdy sauce pan, combine flour and butter to make a roux over medium heat. Whisk in fish stock and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add the milk. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Let the sauce simmer while you go on to the next step.
  3. Saute the extra eggplant with onions, garlic, celery, and bell pepper until they are all tender and have lost most of their water using olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper along the way. Deglaze with white wine or vermouth and reduce. Remove from heat and set aside for later use.
  4. Add the shrimp, crab, Pernod, and white sauce (Bay leaf removed) to the vegetables and mix well. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Put the mixture into the hollowed out eggplants and top with shredded cheese.
  5. Return the stuffed eggplants to the oven and roast for another 20 to 30 more minutes or until the eggplant and shrimp are completely cooked and the cheese is brown and bubbly.
  6. Serve with nice crusty bread or white rice.


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