Comfort Food

Comfort Food

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. Saut√© 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.

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