Eggplant is My Friend!

A few years ago, I had the privilege of teaching cooking classes, encouraging people to use locally grown produce.  One of the most difficult vegetables to push was eggplant!

What preconceived notions we have about eggplant!  Most people immediately think “mushy” when you mentioned the beautiful aubergine because any time they’ve ever been offered eggplant, it has been in the mushy state.   All vegetables can be cooked that way and in certain regions of the United States that is the only way to cook them.  I’ve come to realize that Americans have an aversion to eggplant because we have an aversion to pureed food, yet many of us preferred our vegetables cooked to that soft state!  Unfortunately, the longer you cook most vegetables, the fewer nutrients they retain, so I encourage you to learn to love veges in the crisp tender state.

Today’s column is devoted to eggplants!  I want you to try eggplant!  Eggplants were first domesticated in India and they come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes.   The first written detail of how to grow eggplants dates to 544 China.  A 12th century book from Arabic Spain describes growing them and a 1597 English botany book describes the plant that “groweth everywhere in Egypt” but was hard to grow in London gardens.  Thomas Jefferson learned to love eggplant while in France and he introduced it to the United States, but it didn’t become popular until the late 1800s when Italian and Asian immigrants came to us with their longtime love of the vegetable.

Most of us are familiar with Eggplant Parmesan.  I’ve made boatloads of that, but I’m going to share a recipe in this column that is a short cut version of the popular dish.  I’m also going to share a recipe for something sweet made with eggplant.  No matter how you use eggplant, remember that it is like a sponge.  It will soak up whatever oil to use, so be prepared for that.  Too much oil is a bad thing and will totally change the texture and taste of your dish.  Make sure you are using good, flavorful and fresh oil.  When I grill eggplant on the BBQ grill, I usually leave the peel on.  For most other recipes, I remove the peel.

Eggplants are in!  I love them and will probably devote more than one “Vintage Vegetables” column to the beautiful things.  They come in many sizes and colors, so in the next year I will feature a few!  We are enamored by global cuisines, and most of us are surrounded by International restaurants so we feed our love of new or different tastes at a restaurant’s table!  I’m encouraging you to cook at home and teach yourself how to blend these wonderful food cultures with your own!

Easy Pan-Fried Eggplant with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Peel and slice an eggplant. The slices should be about half and inch thick. Dip the slices in a milk/egg slurry, then in dried breadcrumbs. I’m not a fan of panko breadcrumbs, so I use unseasoned breadcrumbs, but you can use Italian seasoned. Fry the eggplant slices in canola or olive oil until they are brown and crispy. Remove them to a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Expect to have to add oil to your skillet as you fry, because the eggplant will soak it up.

Eggplant Parmesan is usually smothered in cheese and sauce and you can hardly taste the eggplant. This dish is not that way! As the eggplant cool, make a quick sauce in the skillet you’ve used for frying. If there is any more than a Tablespoon of oil in the skillet, remove it. To the remaining oil, add a couple chopped Roma tomatoes (any variety will work), ¼ cup of finely chopped onion, ¼ cup of chopped red or green bell pepper and 1 teaspoon of garlic puree. Add a generous grind of black pepper and a good sprinkle of salt. Sauté the vegetables until they are softening, then add about a cup of tomato juice (I use Bloody Mary mix!) to create the sauce. If you want more liquid, add it. If you want more flavor, use V8 juice. Cook this until it starts to bubble, then it is done. This is a quick, fresh sauce.

Pour the sauce over the eggplant slices when ready to serve. Top it with parmesan cheese. Serve it with rice or pasta … or with other vegetables! Make this recipe your own.

My next recipe is so worth making! It takes a little time, but it sure will surprise your family. Don’t tell them that eggplant is in the recipe, if they don’t like eggplant. They will never know it! It is important to use vegetable or canola oil to deep fry these fritters. You want to make sure the temperature has reached 375 degrees. Anything lower will take too long and the fritters will absorb too much oil. Test fry a little drop of your batter before putting a whole scoop in. I have found that it is so simple to use a small ice cream scoop to drop the batter when frying anything like this. If you dip your scoop into the hot oil, before scooping up some of the batter, it will be easier to release the batter. You can make this batter in advance and keep it refrigerated. Notice that there is no milk or water in the batter. The eggplant has plenty of liquid, even after you have pushed all the water out of it.

Dessert Eggplant Fritters

1 medium eggplant
1 egg
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Peel and chop the eggplant.  Boil it until it is tender.  Drain the eggplant and press the excess water out of it.  Mash the eggplant and whisk in the egg, sugar, flour, baking powder and cinnamon.   Deep fry the little fritters by dropping about a Tablespoon of the batter into the oil.  They will float to the top of the oil when they are done and if they don’t turn over on their own, turn them once while frying.  Drain them on a paper towel and sprinkle them with powdered sugar or roll them in a mixture of granulated sugar and cinnamon.  Make a pot of good coffee and enjoy!

This column is part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables food project. If you'd like to see similar posts, just hit the menu tab.  I'll also be sharing this with a few blog parties, so make sure you click through to see the other posts.  My favorite parties are listed on my sidebar.

Potato Ways!

Potatoes have been around forever! Yes, forever, since 5000 BC. I guess that makes them vintage! One of the best pieces of history of the potato in the United States is a story about the Northern Pacific Railroad. It isn’t uncommon to think of food related companies promoting new recipes, but a railway?

Idaho remains the state that produces the most potatoes, and that was also true in the early 1900s. The Idaho baked potato was promoted by the Railroad in 1908 because one of the company’s dining car superintendents learned that the farmers couldn’t sell their crops because their potatoes were too large. They were being fed to the pigs because nobody knew what to do with a two-pound potato! That superintendent, Hazel Titus made arrangements to buy all those potatoes. The big potatoes had tuff skins and were difficult to peel or cook, but Titus knew how to bake them and scoop out the wonderfully fluffy, tender inside!

The “Great Big Baked Potato” was offered to travelers on the Northern Pacific line! Lots of advertising, marketing premiums including postcards and spoons, helped make it popular. There was even a 40-foot-long potato with lighted eyes that winked … mounted to the roof of one of the Railroad’s commissaries!

Baked potatoes are not a part of my childhood food memories. My mother boiled a big batch of little red skinned potatoes once a week and kept them in the refrigerator. She would peel what she needed for a meal and fry them. I suppose that was my dad’s favorite, because we had them a lot. Mother also made the best potato salad, the best au gratin potatoes … and mashed potatoes were a part of her standard menus, but never baked.

I married a man who was the typical ‘meat and potatoes’ Midwesterner, and he especially loved a baked potato. My affair with baked potatoes began then. I quickly researched the best ways to make the best baker. We wanted a crisp skin and a creamy interior. I found that rubbing oil on the potato and placing it directly on the oven rack was the method that proved true. Pierce the potato a few times so steam can escape. I bake my potatoes at 400 degrees. Depending upon their size, they can take an hour to be tender. If you want a soft skin, wrap them in foil.

When we bought our first microwave, it was so we could bake potatoes in just a few minutes. We used it for a while but returned to the conventional oven method!

We know that American pioneers baked potatoes by burying them in the coals of a wood fire. I guess I’m still a pioneer because I can’t build a wood cooking fire outside without tucking potatoes in the coals!

I’m guessing that the popular twice baked potato recipes became very popular in the 1960s. With exception of a recipe in a 1952 Slovak Women’s Society cookbook, I haven’t found reference to twice bakes in my earlier cookbooks. That doesn’t mean that home cooks weren’t using their extra baked potatoes like my mother used her extra boiled potatoes! I suspect they were twice baking long before the 1960s, but that is when it became popular to do so!

On another note, however, potato fritter recipes are found in cookbooks from the 1600s! (Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1585. It became a staple crop.)

The recipes I’m sharing in this post are two of my family’s favorites. Both recipes can be made with those extra baked potatoes or you can bake them specifically for these yummy spuds.

Potato Corn Fritters 

Mash 2 cups of left-over baked potatoes (or used mashed potatoes). Add 1 cup of corn kernels, 1 egg, ½ cup grated cheddar cheese, ¼ cup finely chopped onion, ¼ cup chopped green or red bell pepper and 1 Tablespoon chopped chili or jalapeño pepper. If your mixture seems a little too loose, add a Tablespoon of flour.

Fry these in small portions in canola oil, turning them once. Salt and pepper them as they fry. Remove to a paper towel to absorb excels oil.

These are delicious served with a salad … especially a wilted lettuce salad … or with a grilled cheese sandwich. You can also make small versions and serve as an appetizer.

Crab Stuffed Twice Baked Potatoes

To make these potatoes especially delicious, use two cans of crab meat. One can of pieces to mix into the potato and a second can of crab claw meat to place directly into the mid-top of each potato so everybody gets a big bite of crab meat.

You can use any kind of breadcrumbs in this recipe, but to make it closer to a ‘stuffed crab’ kind of flavor, use Old Bay seasoned crumbs. You can also use any kind of grated cheese, but a mild Gouda or Havarti is especially good.

To make 6 twice bakes, scoop out the flesh leaving a good shell that is thick enough to hold up to the second baking. To make the filling, add a small can of crab meat to the potatoes. Add ¼ cup finely chopped onion, ¼ cup finely chopped sweet red pepper, 1 ½ cup of bread crumbs, 1 cup of grated cheese, ½ cup sour cream and ¼ cup of soft butter … salt and pepper … a dash of garlic powder … and 2 eggs, one at a time. The eggs will make this filling nice and fluffy and will bind it together, but you don’t want the filling to be too loose. If it seems right after adding the first egg, don’t add the second one.

Fill the potato shells. Tuck a portion of the crab claw meat right on top in the middle. You can stop at this point or you can add additional cheese or breadcrumbs to the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. If you are roasting meat at a higher temperature, go ahead and stick the twice bakes in the oven. Just check on them and you’ll know when they are done.

Enjoy these recipes as you remember to use potatoes in your daily menus. If time is valuable to you, bake extra potatoes on a weekend and use them in other ways during the week. I’ll be sharing this post with a couple blog parties, so make sure you check my sidebar so you can click through.

This post is a part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables food project. If you want to see similar posts, just click the Vintage Vegetables page tab in the menu.

Creamy Leek Sauce

If this column makes you think about the mashed potato mountain in the movie, Close Encounters, good for you!  Anybody who has seen that movie will always identify with the mashed potato mountain that the father made at the dinner table, as he described his intent to go find it!

However, this column is really about the very old leek!  We first find the leek in print in 1598, in the recipe for Cock-a-leekie Soup.  The soup was a combination of chicken, prunes and leeks in a flavorful broth.  It was a favorite of the Bonnie Prince Charles.  We know from Egyptian archaeological digs that leeks are much older than the days of the Bonnie Prince.  Leeks are commonly seen in the agriculture scenes of the art of ancient Egypt.  Dried pieces of leeks have been identified from digs. 
I think it is safe to call leeks ‘vintage’!
In the 1950s, there was a long list of classic soups that were found as the opening course at dinner parties.  Vichyssoise was probably at the top of the list, especially for spring and summer dinners.  Leeks were a prominent ingredient in many of those soups.  The 1950s and 60s are what I identify as ‘vintage’ for the purposes of this food project!   

I’ll do a column specifically about soups later on … before soup season is over … but for now let’s just say that soup was an important beginning to meals, especially in times of economic problems.  Of course, hearty soup is a meal in itself, but even a brothy soup with little other ingredients helps encourage our appetites and fills our bellies with something good before the more expensive foods come along!  Home cooks had all kinds of methods of stretching what they had.  How often did they make broths from ingredients that would have been tossed out?  Fish bones, a chicken carcass, vegetable peels and stems and roots … all make fantastic broth.

Another classic from those mid-century dinner parties uses the old common potato, but makes it anything but common!  Duchess Potatoes, a combination of mashed potatoes, egg yolks, cream and sometimes cheese … graced many plates!  History tells us that this item originated in France, but is named for a British duchess who came to visit!  Fancy!   You can make Duchess Potatoes and top it with my Leek Sauce, but you can also do what I did.  Make mini mashed potato mountains!
Creamy Leek Sauce

Remember to wash your leeks well.  You need to separate the layers and make sure you get any sand or dirt out.  For this recipe, use all the white portion and part of the green portion of 1 leek. Chop the leek into small pieces.

In 2 Tablespoons of butter and 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, sauté the leek until soft.  Add 1 tsp. of garlic paste and a couple grinds of fresh pepper to the skillet and add ¼ cup of chicken or vegetable broth.  When this begins to simmer, add ¼ cup of heavy cream.  Let the sauce cook until it is thick, then stir in another Tablespoon of butter to improve the flavor and texture.  That’s it!  

Pour this delicious sauce over your mashed potato mountains!

*If you are using left over mashed potatoes, whip in an egg and a little cream.  Make your little mounds and bake them for about 20 minutes.  You can also put them in muffin cups, so they are uniform in size. If you want a crisp crust, just brush a little butter on them before you bake them.

This post is a part of my Vintage Vegetables project.  If you want to see other similar posts, just  click the Vintage Vegetable page tab.  I'll also be sharing this with a couple blog parties, so make sure you check my sidebar and click through to the parties!

Chicken Bog!

Our favorite family vacation spot was Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  What we loved about that area was not just the beautiful beach, but the culture and history of the coastal region.  We’d go south as far as Savannah, Georgia and north as far as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  

We’d eat our way from place to place, always searching for the favorite local cuisine!  Today, I’m sharing a favorite recipe from that area!  Chicken Perlou (spelled a few different ways) is also known as Chicken Bog.  I make mine a little differently than the many recipes I’ve seen, because I love a whole roasted chicken.  The flavors are better, and the presentation is much nicer.  I think!

Begin by stuffing a whole chicken with a quarter of an onion, a couple sticks of celery, a clove of garlic and a bay leaf.  Sprinkle the bird with lots of pepper and a smidgen of salt.  Make a rack in your roasting pan by laying sticks of celery across the pan so you can set your chicken on them.  They will lift the chicken from boiling in its juices.  Lay sections of the rest of your onion around the chicken and begin roasting at 350 degrees.  A three-pound chicken should take about an hour and a half to finish.

While the chicken is roasting, prepare your favorite variety of rice.  I use Cahokia Brown rice. I cook the rice about ¾ the way done, then simply add it to the roasting pan.  There should be enough broth from the chicken to allow the rice to finishing cooking.  If you think you need more, just add a little water.  At this point, I also add chopped sweet red peppers and smoked sausages.  Let it cook about 30 more minutes.   On this occasion, in the last 30 minutes of cooking, I also added chopped red beet leaves.  They were stunning and I knew they would add beautiful color and flavor.

The presentation of this recipe is beautiful, and the flavors are incredible.  You are probably wondering why I didn’t add herbs or spices to the rice combination.  The flavors come from the broth and the broth is flavored with everything added to the roasting pan!

Simple and delicious!

It is important to note that the foodways of this coastal region are deeply influenced by the Gullah population.  I encourage you to study their history, if you don’t know about them.  I always loved the fact that their ways of cooking were very much like my own, which was heavily influenced by my own German and Scottish background!  My Southern Illinois has been populated by people who came from the Carolinas through Tennessee into Illinois.  We are very much the same people! 

I’m including this recipe in my 2020 Vintage Vegetable food posts, because of the use of the beet greens. Greens don’t have to be cooked and served as a side dish.  It is so easy to add them to many other combinations.  Red beets are believed to have been grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon.  For hundreds of years, humans only ate the greens and not the red roots! The greens are known to be filled with nutrients that make us healthy, so adding them to a meal is a smart thing!

I'll be sharing this post with a couple blog parties, so make sure you check my sidebar and click through to see the party goers!

Fusion for Napa Cabbage

Several times during my years as a homemaker, the price of iceberg lettuce has gotten too high for a normal middle-class family to afford!  When that happened in the 1980s, a friend introduced us to what he called ‘skunk cabbage’.  It was Napa Cabbage and he called it ‘skunk’ because the shape was like a skunk’s tail!  I quickly learned how to adjust my lettuce salad recipes to Napa Cabbage, and it was easy.  My favorite part of the head of lettuce is the center crunchy core, so it was easy to learn to love Napa Cabbage!  The tender leaves joined in a wonderful crunchy base, and we loved it! 

Napa Cabbage has a mild flavor that is a cross between Iceberg Lettuce, celery and cabbage.  In Asian cooking you find it in stir-fry, soups and eaten raw.  It is the pickled ingredient in Kim Chee and is often called Chinese Cabbage.

Botanical evidence suggests that it was cultivated 4,000 years ago.  It was brought to the United States in the 1880s by immigrant laborers from China and Japan.  It is truly vintage! 

Napa Cabbage will take on the flavors of things you cook with it.  That makes it especially versatile in many cuisines.  My favorite ‘vintage’ period is the 1940s through the 1960s.  Cookbooks from those decades share recipes for salads and sides made with Chinese Cabbage, often using cream, which is an unusual ingredient in Asian cooking.  Lion’s Head Meatballs is a popular Chinese dish that may have originated in China as early as the 1600s. The big meatballs resemble the head of the guardian lion. The meatballs are cooked in broth with Chinese Cabbage … our Napa Cabbage!

The recipe I’m sharing today is kind of a fusion!  I love cabbage rolls (which are German to me); I love fried rice and I love Tai Basil Beef!  Using the big outer leaves of the cabbage, I stuffed them with savory fried rice and prepared them for baking.  I made a delicious sauce, rolled thin slices of sirloin roast.  Let’s start with the sauce.

Tai Basil Sauce

Mix:  1 tsp of garlic paste, 1 T of fish sauce and another T of oyster sauce.  Whisk in 1/3 cup of soy sauce and ¼ cup of brown sugar.  
In a heavy saucepan, sauté a couple chopped green onions and a cup of loosely chopped Tai Basil in a T of olive oil.  The onions will start to soften quickly and as soon as you see that happening, add the sauce ingredients.  Stir for a couple minutes until the sugar melts away and the sauce is bubbling. 

Prepare the Rolls and Meat

The leaves of the cabbage are pliable enough that you don’t need to pre-cook them in order for them to fold.  Place a serving of prepared fried rice into each leaf and gently fold it around the rice.

Place your cabbage rolls in a baker and place a rolled piece of sirloin next to each one.  Add several slices of bright red (bell) pepper to the dish and pour the sauce over it all.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.  Before serving, drizzle smoked sesame oil over each serving and garnish with a big sprig of Tai Basil!  The flavor is so good!

Remember the rest of your head of cabbage!  You’ll find zillions of salad recipes online, but my favorite is the one that many of us make for potlucks!  You know that recipe that calls for broken Ramen noodles on top … with almonds?  You’ll find it online.   Enjoy!

I’ll be sharing this with a couple blog parties, so make sure you look at my sidebar to find those sites.   This post is part of my Vintage Vegetable food project for 2020.  If you want to see other recipes, just click the page on my menu bar! 

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