Even if I didn’t love to eat eggplant, I‘d probably buy it anyway. (I’ve had almost zero success growing it, sadly). Those gorgeous purple-black Italian varieties, the long, slim Ichiban, which are perfect for the grill, chubby striated Listada de Gandia and those bright lavender-purple Neons make beautiful – if perishable — decorations in addition to meals.
Eggplant is one of those vegetables that the Anglo-Saxons among us – at least those of a certain age – have come to fairly late, so it’s taken a while for us to hunt up recipes. But they abound. Tons on the internet – some linked below –while in Gourmet Today I counted 17, and Bon Appetit Cookbook has 8 more that are completely different from those. (The competition between them was a good thing.).
Eggplant is used in lots of different cuisines, evidenced by its several names: aubergine; melongene; brinjal; guinea squash. It makes great vegetarian meals — spicy Lebanese eggplant and garbanzo stew, eggplant calzones with four cheeses and basil, eggplant parmesan, roasted eggplant stuffed with rice or couscous, sautéed vegetables, herbs and cheese, and eggplant soufflé. There’s baba ganoush, caponata, which is great for hors ‘d oeuvres on crackers (or if, as I often do, you eat hors d’oeuvres for supper, caponata is the salad/veg and crackers the carb portion of the meal), tempura’d eggplant slices dipped in adobo and mayo sauce with lime, roasted eggplant soup with grilled poblano and crème fresh (or sour cream or yogurt) and spicy African, chicken and peanut soup. Then there’s Greek moussaka, a casserole that solves the problem of how to feed 6 people on one pound of meat. Three words: to. die. for.
One cup of eggplant boiled and drained (gack, who’d eat it like that?) is only 33 calories. It’s a member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos, hot peppers and tobacco (which is why tobacco mosaic virus can affect your tomato and eggplant plants). It’s high in Vitamin K, Thiamin, B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese, and is a very good source of dietary fiber. But go easy with the saltshaker. Many recipes call for salting it before you use it to draw out the moisture, but if you don’t rinse the salt off and pat slices dry (what a pain!) you’ve added more salt than you most likely need in either the recipe or your diet.
One super-easy recipe for eggplant was given me by potter Joan Reed years ago. Italian Eggplant, a layered vegetarian dish, takes about 10 minutes to put together, is hearty, healthy and delicious, and uses a lot of the things we’re seeing in the farmers’ market at the moment. Even Visigoths, who want meat meat meat, like this one.
Italian Eggplant Casserole
1 eggplant, thinly sliced
2 summer or zucchini squash, thinly sliced
1 cup uncooked spaghetti in 1-inch pieces
1 cup chopped celery
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
8 oz mozzarella (or any combo of cheeses – cheddar, gruyere, mozzarella, whatever, Joan uses all cheddar)
16 oz. tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce (home-canned works fine)
2 tsp Worcestershire
½ tsp salt
1 garlic clove, minced
Combine tomato or spaghetti sauce, Worcestershire, salt, garlic and oregano. Layer half vegetables, then spaghetti then cheese then tomato sauce in a greased 3-quart casserole. Repeat with remaining. Bake covered at 350F for 1-1 ½ hours. You can easily add two layers of ground meat to this recipe for your hard-core Visigoths.
There are plenty of moussaka recipes on the web, each different, but the one I use is adapted from a cookbook a friend gave me more decades ago than I like to count. You can substitute ground beef for the ground lamb, but I’m tellin’ ya, it ain’t the same.
1 pound ground lamb
1 medium eggplant, thin-sliced
2 cups tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped or one 15 oz. can, drained (you can make Bloody Marys with the drained juice)
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 small onion, diced
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp fresh oregano or 1 tsp dried
3 tblsp fresh basil
¾ cup finely grated Parmesan
1 ½ cups béchamel (white sauce)
freshly ground pepper, maybe a dash of salt
Sauté ground lamb in a small dollop of olive oil with onion, garlic, cinnamon and pepper. Pour off rendered fat then put the meat into the bottom of a 4-quart casserole. Layer the thin slices of eggplant on top, covering the meat. Sprinkle oregano over eggplant. Layer tomatoes over that, then basil leaves. Cover that layer with plenty of fresh spinach leaves, mashing them down to lay as flat as you can get them and dust with nutmeg. Then cover the whole thing, to seal it, beneath a layer of béchamel. Top that with grated Parmesan and bake in 375F for 50-60 minutes. When it’s done, the casserole is sunk down some, bubbly and the Parmesan is browned. (If you cut into it and the eggplant isn’t quite done, stick it back in for another 10 minutes or so.). Let the casserole sit for 10 minutes before you scoop into it with a big spoon so you get all the layers together. This is really nice with toasted garlic bread. And of course, robust red wine.
There are two caponata recipes here to give you ideas. You can make it with a variety of things. I usually do eggplant, garlic, onion, peppers, tomato, black olive and red wine and sometimes add a bit of chopped prosciutto and lemon basil.