Friday, September 9, 2011

What To Do With An Eggplant

In the past, I have had eggplant only rarely in my possession.  This year, our neighbors delivered two tiny plants to our door, and we, being up for an adventure, planted them right next to my front steps.  Now I know why two of the four plants were given away.  Eggplant has found its favorite habitat here in the front of my house and we harvest 4 or 5 at a time off our pretty plants.  Things we have learned on our adventure: Eggplant could be planted as a decorative plant, the leaves are beautiful and full, the blossoms are the same lovely purple as the fruit, and the fruit itself is beguiling.  The fruit doesn't store well, losing firmness after only a couple of days, it is best eaten within about 48 hours of picking.  That said, eggplant fresh off my plant tastes better than anything I have ever purchased in a store.  You can freeze eggplant, but it has such a high water content that it loses texture, and I really wouldn't recommend it in any of the recipes I have used so far.  Last, it is tricky to give eggplant away, as most people just shrug their shoulders and have no clue how to eat it.

I have been in the no-clue boat, so now I will share some of what I have learned about eating eggplant.  I started the summer with only a recipe for Eggplant Parmesan, which I love, a skeptical husband and seven cynical children.  Now I have a few other ideas, and about the same amount of support.  First I made stuffed eggplant from Tessa Kiros' Falling Cloudberries book.  This was my first time eating eggplant with its purple skin.  Basically, this recipe takes the eggplant, removing the top, cut it in half and scoop out the inside leaving a thin shell.  The shells are boiled until soft, while the inside is chopped, sauteed with meat and seasonings, then stuffed in the shells and topped with tomato sauce and cheese and baked.  It is yummy this way.  After learning that you can eat the skins, I tried frying them with the skin on and learned that it becomes tough this way, so now I understand that sometimes you peel and other times you don't.  There is also a delicious looking moussaka in this cookbook that I intend to try soon.

As far as just using this vegetable in side dishes, this step begins standard preparation:  Peel and slice the eggplant into about 1/2 inch thick slices.  Salt both sides and place slices between layers of paper towel.  Put a plate on top of this and a weight.  Do this about 30 min. before you want to cook it.  This lowers the water content and pulls out any bitter tasting juices.  (I have not found the fresh eggplant to be bitter even without this step.)  I don't use a ton of salt, so I just wipe the slices with paper towel and move on.  Some recipes say to rinse at this point.  Up to you.

The slices are very good grilled.  Brush both sides with olive oil, season with a yummy herb mix and grill until tender.  You can bread the slices by rolling in beaten egg and then in Italian bread crumbs.  Fry in a little hot oil until golden and kind of crispy.  I can eat a whole eggplant myself if I cook it this way! (I didn't use the salt step.)  I also tried with just fresh, peeled eggplant chopped in an omelet filling.  My husband thought they were mushrooms, they take on that color and texture anyway.  I have also breaded the slices in cracker crumbs, which makes a nice crunchy coating, but needs a good amount of seasoning to carry it off.  Eggplant acts like a big sponge in your oil, soaking up all you put in the pan, so know this up front and try to put in just a little at a time, adding more between batches. 

I have a friend who told me she loves eggplant sandwiches.  I don't know what she puts on them, but I am trying to find out.  Just the idea of using it for a sandwich has given me some ideas.  If they turn out well, I'll pass them on.  I would also welcome any tasty ideas you pass my way. 
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