Cynthia, our new food writer, rhapsodizes about her favorite purple product. Cynthia is the founder and owner of The Meatloaf Bakery™ and an enthusiastic foodie. Her creative meatloaf products are offered today via Meatloaf By Mail. She cooks, writes and loves to talk about her experiences with ingredients, techniques and delicious outcomes.
To salt, or not to salt? That is the question for anyone who dabbles in eggplant cuisine. Turns out, there are two schools of thought on this ever-so-important topic. Some say salting eggplant helps remove the occasional bitter taste that may come with large, deep purple eggplants. My mother, a superb cook, always salted eggplant. Back then, eggplants were very bitter. In fact, so much so, I didn’t like them—even after my mom did her salting ritual. Today I concur with some leading chefs that salting isn’t necessary. Eggplants are simply less bitter than they once were – perhaps due to fewer seeds.
In our Lebanese family, eggplant was a frequent guest on our kitchen table. And when company arrived, eggplant became even more popular with dishes like baba ghanoush (eggplant tahini dip) and Shaykh Il Mihshee (eggplant ‘boats’ with meat). I fondly remember my mom saying every time I refused to eat either of those two dishes, “Cynthia, I thought you liked eggplant?” And my reply, “No mom, I don’t like eggplant. You knew that.” I know she was stealthily trying to get me to eat them, conveniently forgetting my eggplant aversion.
That has all changed now. That’s because I’ve discovered white eggplants. They are fabulous, mild yet flavorful. When in season late summer, early fall, they are my go-to vegetable in a fresh pasta sauce. The skin is rather tough so it’s best to peel them if you plan to use them in stir-fries or side dishes. Or cut them into wedges, drizzle with olive oil and herbs, and grill or roast in the oven at 375 or 400 degrees. Be sure to finish with a sprinkle of sea salt to bring out the flavor even more.
While the larger globe eggplant is the most common, the long and narrow Japanese eggplant is also popular especially in Asian-inspired recipes. The skin is tender and the eggplant can be sliced into circular discs for easy roasting too.
The graffiti or Sicilian variety is a sight to behold with its magenta and white stripes. And while these are just as tasty, they are even prettier to look at. Baby eggplants are just that—miniature versions of the larger ones. Round Barabella eggplants like the ones pictured above are meant to be hollowed out and stuffed, but can also be sliced or diced and prepared in stir-fries or pasta sauces.
And yes, there’s another variety called the Indian eggplant. It closely resembles our American globe eggplants, yet is much smaller and rounder. Here’s a delicious Indian-inspired recipe from Viet World Kitchen.
Eggplants don’t offer an abundance of one nutrient, but they do contain many helpful vitamins and minerals, such as fiber, folate, potassium and manganese, as well as vitamins C, K, and B6, phosphorus, copper, thiamin, niacin, magnesium, and pantothenic acid. Now there’s no reason not to take liberties with these luscious vegetables for lunches or dinners.
While eggplant Parmesan is a well-known and tasty dish, here’s my recipe for a fresh pasta sauce. It’s tasty, and takes very little time to prepare. (Feel free to add other summer/fall vegetables like zucchini or yellow squash. Even corn ‘off’ the cob adds texture and flavor.)
Eggplant Pasta Sauce (2 servings)
2 white eggplants, peeled and diced in small cubes
1 small sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ yellow bell pepper, diced
2 T olive oil
2 cups fresh tomatoes* (diced with seeds)
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes or more
½ cup fresh basil leaves
¼ tsp sugar
Splash of red wine
Salt & pepper to taste
*Roma are good or you can use a 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes.
In a 10-inch non-stick sauté pan, sauté the onions, garlic and yellow pepper in olive oil till soft. Add the eggplant. After the eggplant becomes slightly translucent, add tomatoes and red wine, and simmer. Be sure not to overcook or it will become mushy. Add red pepper flakes, sugar, and salt and pepper. Save the basil till you’re ready to serve. Enjoy over fresh pasta, brown rice or even the nutty wheat farro grain.
Baba Ghanoush (from my very own classic Lebanese cookbook)
1 large eggplant (with skin)
3 T tahini
2 T water
Juice of 2 fresh lemons
1 clove garlic (mashed)
Salt – to taste
Parsley – few sprigs, chopped fine
Preheat broiler. Place the whole eggplant on a tray, prick the skin with a fork, and broil turning on all sides until thoroughly cooked. When cool to touch, peel the eggplant. Mash with a food processor, or a fork will do (some chunks add texture). In a bowl, add garlic, lemon juice, salt and tahini. Mix well and taste. Garnish with fresh parsley and olive oil if desired. Serve with pita chips or pita bread wedges.