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A&E >  Food

Just Picked: eggplant

Eggplant from Elithorp Farm in Deer Park at a recent Night Market in Kendall Yards. (ADRIANA JANOVICH
Eggplant from Elithorp Farm in Deer Park at a recent Night Market in Kendall Yards. (ADRIANA JANOVICH

Small white varieties indeed do look like eggs. But purple most likely comes to mind when people hear the word.

Eggplant is a firm and fleshy fruit that’s treated like a vegetable.

Think Italy’s Eggplant Parmigiana, France’s ratatouille, Greece’s moussaka, and baba ghanoush from the Middle East.

Because of its mild taste and spongy texture, eggplant – which also comes in green and reddish orange – is often used as a substitute for meat. Medallions can be sliced and salted, breaded and baked, encrusted with Parmesan or topped with mozzarella and marinara sauce.

Eggplant, known as aubergine in England and France, is bitter when raw. Cooking coaxes out its mild sweetness, making eggplant – halved into boats or sliced into rounds – ready and willing vehicles for flavor.

While eggplant can’t boast about its vitamin or mineral content, its flesh is quite filling without a whole bunch of calories – or much else. There are only about 20 calories per cup and some fiber. But that’s about it. Eggplant is about 95 percent water.

It soaks up oil like a sponge. Salting draws out moisture and reduces the amount of fat absorbed.

Simply sprinkle on salt, place slices in a colander set over a bowl, and let them rest for about an hour. Then, maybe get the grill going. Rinse the rounds, press out the remaining water, brush them with olive oil, season them with salt and pepper, and set them on the grill.

Stack them for a more dramatic presentation, alternating with layers of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and basil for a twist on the classic Caprese salad.

Or, chop them up and saute them – along with favorite vegetables – and serve them with pasta or rice with Italian- or Asian-inspired dishes.

Stuff halves with ground meat and shredded cheese. Or, stuff and roll up long, thin slices – like little eggplant enchiladas or warm veggie wraps.

Baba Ghanoush

From Rachael Ray

3 medium eggplants (about 1 pound each)

1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more for seasoning

1/4 cup tahini

2 - 3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

6 pitas, cut into wedges and warmed if desired

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prick the eggplants all over with a fork and place on a baking sheet. Bake, flipping once, until the skin is shriveled and the flesh softens, about 35 minutes. Let cool, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the stems and skin. Cut the eggplant into large chunks and, using a colander, drain any excess liquid.

Using a food processor, puree the eggplant, parsley, lemon juice, tahini, garlic and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and add more lemon juice to taste.

Transfer the baba ghanoush to a bowl, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and serve with the pita wedges for dipping.

Yield: 8 servings

Eggplant Parmigiana

From “Better Homes and Gardens Skillet Meals”

1 small eggplant

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon water

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup meatless spaghetti sauce

3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (3 ounces)

Shredded fresh basil (optional)

Wash and peel eggplant; cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. In a shallow bowl, combine egg and the water. Place the flour in a second shallow bowl. Dip eggplant slices into egg mixture, then into flour, turning to coat both sides.

In a large skillet, cook eggplant, half at a time, in hot oil over medium-high heat, 4 to 6 minutes or until golden, turning once. (If eggplant browns too quickly, add additional oil and reduce heat to medium.) Drain on paper towels.

Wipe the skillet with paper towels. Arrange the cooked eggplant slices in the skillet; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Top with spaghetti sauce and mozzarella cheese. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat, 5 to7 minutes or until heated through. If desired, top with basil.

Yield: 4 servings

Thai Green Chicken Curry

From “Better Homes and Gardens Skillet Meals”

1 tablespoon canola oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons green or yellow curry paste, or 3 tablespoons red curry paste

12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch strips

1 medium red or yellow sweet pepper, cut into thin bite-size strips

1/2 small eggplant, peeled, if desired, and cut into bite-size pieces (2 cups)

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves, plus more whole leaves for garnish

1 teaspoon finely shredded lime peel

2 cups hot cooked jasmine rice

Lime wedges, for garnish

In a large nonstick skillet or wok, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds.

Stir in coconut milk, broth, fish sauce and brown sugar. Whisk in curry paste. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in sweet pepper and eggplant. Continue to boil gently 5 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink, vegetables are just tender and sauce has thickened slightly, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Stir the 1/4 cup thinly sliced basil leaves and the lime peel into chicken mixture. Serve over hot cooked rice. Top with fresh basil leaves and serve with lime wedges.

Yield: 4 servings

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