By Lisa Shrewsberry
— Deep blackish-purple is to food as yellow is to snow, in terms of consumption — fine for a T-shirt, but generally not a hue over which to salivate. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, when considering the potential taste and optimal nutrition provided by the versatile eggplant — a.k.a. the vegetarian steak.
A longtime paramour of marinara and mozzarella, eggplant is the perfect main ingredient, as centuries of Italians and their enduring, olive-oil slicked casserole dishes of Eggplant Parmesan can attest. A lack of understanding of basic preparation is the only excuse for neglecting to plate this heartiest of fruits.
Chef Devin Godbey, program coordinator for UC-Beckley’s Culinary Arts Program, has a few fail-proof preparation tips and two recipes to help readers get to know the eggplant — her garlic-studded spin on traditional Middle Eastern dip Baba Ghanoush and an original vegetarian sandwich, the Eggplant Bialy.
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- Eggplants belong to the same family as tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes — the nightshade family — possibly explaining their marinara love affair.
- Best recognized for their deep, glossy purple appearance, eggplants are in season August through October, but are typically available in the produce and organic sections at grocery stores and markets year-round. (There are also white varieties of eggplant.)
- The texture of a choice eggplant should be slightly spongy without soft spots, which can indicate decay. The outside should be shiny, without scars or blemishes, and the cap should still be green.
- For many recipes, like eggplant rollatini, eggplant must first be peeled, cubed or sliced and salted, allowed to sweat out some of its high water content to become more pliable, more palatable (raw eggplant is bitter) and more visually appealing (they will quickly oxidize and turn brown).
- Size does matter with eggplants. The larger they are, just as with varieties of other vegetables, the more bitter they tend to be.
- The most common methods of preparation for eggplant are baking, roasting, stewing and steaming.
- Considered by many nutritional experts to be a superfood, eggplants are full of fiber, vitamin B1 and phytonutrients (plant power) with antioxidant properties reported to fight free radicals, the compounds responsible for damage to the body’s cells. It is also naturally low in calories at about 35 calories per cup.
Devin’s Baba Ghanoush
Slice eggplants in half lengthwise. Make slits in eggplant halves large enough to stud with pieces of garlic cloves. Place cut side down on a lightly oiled pan. Roast in a 450 degree oven until skin is charred and the interior is fully cooked,
45 minutes to 1 hour. Let eggplant cool for handling.
Scrape roasted eggplant pulp and garlic from eggplant skin into food processor. Add tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Blend well. If too thick, add 2 tablespoons water and continue blending.
When mixture is smooth, add the parsley and pulse to incorporate. Consistency should be spreadable, but not too loose. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
The baba ghanoush is ready to serve or may be refrigerated. Garnish if desired with diced sweet pepper. Serve with toast points, pita chips, crudité or bagel crisps.
UC’s Eggplant Bialys
6 fresh caramelized onion bialys (bagels or any other large sandwich roll can be substituted)
1 pound eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 (large) fresh red bell peppers
2 red onions
Any vegetable of choice, like portobello mushrooms or poblano peppers
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
Balsamic vinegar and olive oil Makes 6 servings
11/2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard 3/4 ounces minced garlic
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
2/3 ounce serrano chile, seeded and minced
1/2 ounce fresh thyme chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chopped oregano
16 ounces olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Roasted red peppers:
Place red bell peppers on a sheet pan and place on your broiler. The skins will begin to blister and turn black. Continue to rotate the peppers until all sides are charred. Place peppers in a zip-top bag and allow them to steam for about
5 minutes. Remove the peppers from the bag and now you should be able to peel away the skins easily. Remove the seeds and skin and slice into 1-inch pieces. Reserve the peppers for later use in assembling the sandwich.
5 ounces pitted green olives (rinsed)
5 ounces pitted kalamata olives (rinsed)
4 ounces of grated carrots
1 small shallot
1 roasted red pepper
1 fresh lemon (juiced)
8 cloves of garlic
2 ounces caper (rinsed)
2 ounces olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoons fresh basil (chiffonade)
2 tablespoons chopped oregano (fresh)
Combine the olives, capers, carrots, shallot, red pepper, and garlic in a food processor. Blend, incorporating the lemon juice and oil slowly, until the mixture is chunky and easy to spread. Do not over process.
Season with pepper and add the oregano and basil.
The tapenade is ready to serve now, or may be refrigerated for later use.
Lightly salt the eggplant slices and drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Blot dry on paper towels.
Combine the olive oil, mustard, garlic, serranos, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper to make the marinade.
Place the assorted vegetables in a shallow 9- x 13-inch pan in an even layer. Pour marinade over each and turn to coat (let sit for 15-30 minutes).
Shake excess marinade off the vegetables before grilling to avoid flare-ups. Grill the vegetables on both sides over high heat until they soften slightly to the touch, but are not mushy.
Transfer vegetables to a sheet pan and finish cooking them at 350 degrees until soft.
For each sandwich, slice open bialy. Spread a thin layer of tapenade on the cut surface of the roll. Layer with eggplant, roasted red peppers, red onions and finish with mozzarella. Top with the other half of the bialy that has been drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Warm the sandwiches for 10 to 15 minutes in a 250 degree oven if desired before serving.