Midsummer brings with it a plethora of wonderful fresh foods to choose from, including tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini. But one of the most beautiful vegetables that makes its appearance at this time is also one of the most misunderstood: eggplant. Too often they get passed over at the farmer's market, or elicit perplexed groans when discovered in a CSA delivery box. But don't be afraid of these shiny, colorful fruits -- they're filled with flavor and eminently adaptable in the kitchen.
Most of us are familiar with the oblong purple variety of eggplant. But there are long, thin white varieties, as well as striped ones and perfectly round orange ones, too. Each variety has a little different flavor and texture. When choosing fruit, look for smooth skins and heavier fruit. As far as the squeeze test goes, it depends on how you like your eggplant. As the fruit ripens, it softens. It's just a matter of taste as to what to choose. If you're new to eggplant pick one of each and see what works. Many times smaller is better, so experiment.
Eggplant gets a bad rap as a one-trick pony in the kitchen, but with a little imagination there are plenty of ways to use this beautiful and versatile vegetable. It's pureed in Middle Eastern baba ghanoush, cubed for other dishes, and sometimes baked whole. Eggplant absorbs any liquid it's cooked in, so frying isn't the healthiest way to eat it. Brushed lightly with oil it's great on the grill or baked.
The classic dish for this fruit is eggplant parmesan. The best I ever had came at a visit to my wife's family in
One easy way to use eggplant is in concert with a medley of summer vegetables for a wonderful fresh wrap. Slice onions, red peppers, eggplant and some mushrooms and put them in a bowl. Drizzle them with good extra virgin olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper to taste. Cover the bowl and let sit in the fridge for a couple hours. Use a seafood basket and put them on the grill for about 15 minutes, turning frequently. Or cook them in a hot saucepan until cooked through. Take a fresh tortilla and spread some soft cheese on it, or sprinkle a little feta, and add the hot ingredients. Keep it a veggie wrap or add the grilled meat of your choice.
The dish below can be served as an appetizer over fresh crusty bread or pita bread. Depending on the peppers used, it can really wake you up.
EASY SPICY ROASTED EGGPLANT AND PEPPER STARTER
- 3 long hot banana peppers or hot pepper of your choice
- 2 large eggplants
- 1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
Roast the peppers and eggplant on the grill or in the oven until the skins become blistered and black. Let cool, peel the skin, and discard the stems and seeds
Puree the peppers and eggplant together with in a food processor to the desired consistency (I like mine chunky).
Saute the onions in several tablespoons of oil until soft. Add the garlic and cook one or two minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the pepper and eggplant pulp, mixing well. Drizzle remaining oil into the mixture while stirring. Add the lemon juice, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.