Week 8: The Fine Madness of Eggplant
Welp, what can we say? It’s been hotter than a jalapeño fart. That’s right, we said it. While the fruits and veggies are loving it, us farmers are wishing and waiting for the heatwave to break. With that said, it’s all relative. Our relationship with the weather is very different than most people. And even if you’ve never thought of it this way, being part of our CSA connects you to the weather more than most people too.
Mother Nature and the weather she provides has everything to do with the food we all eat every single day- the yields, size of the produce, ripening, moisture content, and most importantly flavor. Every single bite of peach we get to enjoy this year is extra special because we haven’t had peaches the last 2 years due to a late frost in 2017 and the deluge of rain in 2018. The sweetness or lack thereof in your watermelon comes directly from the temperature and amount of rain it gets while growing. The heat of that hot pepper and the water content of that tomato, all comes from the weather. It is such a special connection that we all get to experience every single day.
This week, the focus is on eggplant. Memes and emojis aside, this veggie (actually it's a fruit) has a reputation. The greatest source of contention revolves around its sometimes bitter seeds and juices. To remove any acrid flavors and excess moisture, lightly salt slices and allow to sit in colander for 10-15 minutes. Gently squeeze out any liquid. Eggplant will now soak up less oil and need less salt in preparation.
Eggplants, along with tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, and potatoes are members of the nightshade family. There are dozens of varieties of eggplant, including varied shapes, sizes, and colors; all of which are interchangeable in recipes. Small tender-skinned eggplants need only a rinse and cap trimmed, but larger eggplants may need to be peeled if the skin is thick and tough.
Eggplant is low in calories and high in fiber, and offers very small amounts of vitamins and minerals. Bonus, eggplant skin is a great source of nasunin, an antioxidant believed to scavenge your brain for harmful free radicals that can attack and damage the outer membranes of brain cells. It takes on a wonderful variety of textures depending on how its cooked: grilled, roasted, sauteed, fried, stuffed or pureed. Note, you can't eat eggplant raw, it always has to be cooked to eliminate a toxic substance called solanine. Eggplant is commonly used in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian, African, Southeast Asian, and French cooking. Enjoy these recipes showcasing different ways to cook eggplant!
MARINATED EGGPLANT WITH GREEN CHERMOULA
8 cups cold water
1/3 cup kosher salt
~2 lbs eggplant
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped parsley
12 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 close garlic, finely minced
1 TBSP ground coriander
1 TBSP ground cumin
1. Combine water and salt in a large container, whisking to dissolve the salt. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/2-inch-thick half-moons. Add to the water. Fit a plate on top of the eggplant and place something heavy on it, such as a can, to keep the eggplant submerged. Soak for at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours.
2. Meanwhile, combine cilantro, parsley, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon zest and juice, garlic, coriander and cumin in a large bowl; set aside.
3. Drain the eggplant; thoroughly pat dry. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add a third of the eggplant; cook, turning once, until dark golden brown and almost charred, 3 to 5 minutes per side. (if you think it's done, give it another minute or two so it's really creamy inside and crisp outside.) Transfer to the prepared baking sheet to drain. Repeat with the remaining oil and eggplant in two more batches.
4. Gently stir the eggplant into the herb sauce. Let marinate at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours before serving.
Serves 8: 1/2 cup each
Note: Before cooking a soak in saltwater, as is done in this recipe, firms up the eggplant so it can stand up to the stir-frying by collapsing air pockets in the spongy flesh. Not only does the saltwater soak allow the eggplant to get creamy on the inside and crisp on the outside, it results in using less cooking oil because it is less absorbent.
For the eggplant fries:
One cup fine breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg white
1 medium eggplant
1/2 tsp kosher salt
For the yogurt dip:
1 cup yogurt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven and prepare the baking sheet. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and coat with cooking spray.
Prepare the breading station. Combine the breadcrumbs and Parmesan in a gallon-sized resealable bag. Whisk the egg white until foamy in a small bowl; set aside.
Cut the eggplant into fries. Slice the stem off the eggplant. Leave the eggplant unpeeled. Cut the eggplant into wide sticks: first cut the eggplant crosswise into 1-inch-thick rounds, then cut the rounds into 1-inch wide sticks.
Season. Place the eggplant in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and toss to combine.
Coat the eggplant fries in egg white. Dip 1 eggplant fry into the egg white and turn to coat. Place in the gallon bag with the breadcrumb mixture and repeat with the remaining fries.
Bread the eggplant fries. Seal the bag and shake to evenly coat the eggplant fries with the breadcrumbs and cheese.
Roast. Remove the eggplant fries from the bag, gently shaking off excess crumbs, and place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Spray with another coat of cooking spray. Roast, flipping the fries every 5 minutes, until golden-brown and crisp, about 15 minutes total.
Make the yogurt dip. While the eggplant fries are roasting, place the yogurt, garlic powder, dried parsley, dried thyme, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Serve the yogurt dip with the warm eggplant fries.
Notes: yogurt dip can be made up to a week in advance.
2 eggplants (about 1 pound each), cut into 12 slices each
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup liquid egg whites or 6 large egg whites
2 1/2 cups fine dry bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat
3 TBSP Italian seasoning, divided
4 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, divided
olive oil cooking spray
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
4 TBSP finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
Fresh basil for garnish
Place 2 layers of paper towels on a baking sheet or cutting board. Place half the eggplant slices on the paper towels. Sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cover with another double layer of paper towels. Top with remaining eggplant slices and sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cover with another double layer of paper towels. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
Position oven racks in upper and lower positions and place a large baking sheet on each rack to heat; preheat to 425 degrees.
Blot the eggplant slices with more paper towels. Put flour in one shallow dish, egg whites in another. Combine breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning in a third dish. Dip each slice of eggplant in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in the egg, letting the excess drip off, then press into the breadcrumbs.
Remove the heated baking sheets from the oven and add 2 tablespoons oil to each, tilting to coat. Place half the eggplant on each baking sheet, not letting the slices touch. Generously coat the tops with cooking spray. Bake for 15 minutes. Flip the slices over and continue baking until golden brown, about 15 minutes more.
Combine crushed tomatoes and the remaining 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning in a medium bowl.
To assemble: Coat two 8-inch-square baking dishes with cooking spray. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomatoes in each prepared baking dish. Make a layer of 6 eggplant slices over sauce. Spread with 1 cup of tomatoes and sprinkle with 1/4 cup mozzarella. Top with the remaining 6 slices of eggplant, a generous 1 cup tomatoes, 1/2 cup mozzarella and 2 tablespoons Parmesan.
To serve: Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted, about 15 minutes. Serve garnished with basil, if desired. To freeze: Let unbaked casserole(s) cool to room temperature. Tightly wrap with heavy-duty foil (or freezer paper) and freeze. (To prevent foil from sticking to the cheese, coat with cooking spray first.)
Notes: Makes 2 casseroles, 4 servings each (about 3/4 cup). Recipe courtesy of Eating Well Vegetables.
Frozen Watermelon Mojitos. https://smittenkitchen.com/2019/07/frozen-watermelon-mojitos/
Cucumber Melon Salad. https://www.runningtothekitchen.com/cucumber-melon-salad/