Let’s cook with eggplant

By the time some of you read this, the month of October will be half over! Have you realized this or is it entirely too much information? I know…we don’t really want to be reminded that Thanksgiving is only a little over six weeks away and before we know it, Christmas will be here. Since we can’t stop the clock, I guess we’ll just have to live with it!
This week started with a “bang” with breakfast on the grounds at church and I was one of the hostesses, the crowd wasn’t very large, which was unusual, my guess is that people haven’t gotten used to the fact that we are doing this again, since we didn’t have it at all in 2020 and we’re just getting started in 2021. The food was plentiful with homemade kolaches, sweet rolls, and several bacon/egg, ham/egg/cheese combinations, which were served with homemade salsa.
Our Hospital Auxiliary is busy yet again with a fundraiser, and we’re selling tickets for a gorgeous quilt. A friend and I spent the morning in the hospital lobby selling the tickets. Tuesday brought me the Auxiliary meeting and just a small group in attendance; we are going to have our Awards banquet this year and that’s when my work will really begin! Since I’m writing this on Wednesday, I still have several days to get through and today is pretty full. First and foremost is a trip to town to pick up my friends’ dog as they are taking a road trip and several errands beforehand and finishing up with a meeting this evening.
Have you ever cooked eggplant? Do you know what they are? Oh, you’ve never cooked one, because you thought nothing that color could taste good, but you what they are! In that case, we are getting somewhere, aren’t we?
The eggplant (solanum melongena), as well as sweet peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes, belongs to the nightshade family.
The 16th century Spaniards called eggplant by several names, including berengenas or “apple of love,” while botanists of the same period in northern Europe called it “mala insana” or “mad apple” because they thought eating it would make a person insane. Another name is aubergine (you mean you didn’t know that the color called auberine was really a deep, dark, purple? Neither did I until I looked it up in a dictionary!).
It is most generally believed that eggplant got its name from some very early varieties that were white and had an egg-shaped appearance. The eggplant as we know it today is a dark, glossy, almost black purple, and has a rather pear-shaped appearance. Florida, New Jersey, and California are the top three states growing eggplants, with Mexico also raising a large amount.
But did you know that when an eggplant first appears from the bloom that it is already purple in color? I didn’t either, until I moved to Devine and saw them growing on the Van Damme farms! It was a real surprise to me as no one I knew grew them in their gardens as I was growing up. (When Mother cooked eggplant, it was peeled, sliced, and fried, just as you would okra or squash.) There are many other ways to cook eggplant and I’ll give you a couple of recipes to try.
Eggplant can have a tendency to be bitter in some instances, so it is very important to know what to look for when you purchase them. The most important thing is freshness. Check for an eggplant that is not too large. An overly large eggplant will have more seeds and they can cause bitterness. The eggplant should be shiny and firm, but not rock hard, without any blemishes or bruises. The stem should always be on the eggplant and when you cut into it, the eggplant should be white with few seeds and no green coloration. If it has a green tinge, it is a sign of an immature eggplant.
One half-cup serving of eggplant has only 26 calories. (Of course, this depends on how it is cooked!) Opinions are divided as to whether an eggplant should be peeled or not before cooking. In some dishes, such as eggplant Parmesan, grilled eggplant, stuffed eggplant, and caponata, the skin is left on. A difference of opinion also exists as to whether the eggplant should be soaked in salted water, salted and allowed to drain in a colander, or not salted at all before cooking. Mrs. Van Damme told me to always place the sliced or cubed eggplant in salted water to soak for a little while before cooking. She said this would remove the bitterness! Since the only way it had been cooked at home was sliced and fried, I was pleasantly surprised when dining at a cafeteria (a Luby’s in San Antonio) where it was offered on the menu cubed and fried. This was much easier to eat and stayed crispier than the slices did. Since then, I have eaten it prepared in a casserole and as eggplant Parmesan, which is also very good.
Fried Eggplant
1 eggplant, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying
Cut eggplant into 1/2-inch thick slices and peel. Then cut slices into cubes. Place the cubes in a bowl, sprinkle with salt, and cover with water. Allow to stand in water half an hour or more if desired. Drain well in colander. Place drained eggplant in bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, place eggplant in bag and shake to coat thoroughly. Heat oil in large skillet, shake eggplant in flour again and fry in one layer in skillet until lightly browned, turning as necessary. Continue until all eggplant is fried. Drain on paper towels as you remove it from the skillet.
Eggplant Parmesan
1 eggplant
1 beaten egg
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (the kind in the green can)
1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1/3 cup olive oil
1 can or jar spaghetti or marinara sauce
Mozzarella cheese for topping dish
Mix together cheese and bread crumbs, set aside. Cut eggplant into slices about 3/8 inch thick. Peel each one, sprinkle with salt, and place in colander to drain Remove slices from colander, dip into beaten egg, and then dredge slices in the cheese/bread crumb mixture. Heat oil in large skillet, fry a few slices at a time until lightly browned on both sides, drain on paper towels. Place slices in baking dish, spoon about 1/2 of sauce over slices. Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees F. Top with either mozzarella slices or shredded mozzarella and bake an additional 5 minutes or until cheese melts.
The flavor of the following guacamole is different than your regular guacamole because of the tomatillos, and it is a little bit labor intensive, but the results are worth every minute of the time involved in preparation. (I think the original recipe appeared in the San Antonio Express News several years ago.)
Tomatillo Guacamole
7 tomatillos, husks removed and discarded, and tomatillos rinsed
2 unpeeled cloves of garlic
2 large jalapenos, seeded and halved
2 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 large avocados
Preheat broiler.
On a cookie sheet lined with foil, roast tomatillos, garlic, and chilies (skin side up) for 7 minutes. Remove garlic and chilies, turn tomatillos over, and broil until charred, about 5 minutes more. Remove from pan to cool.
When tomatillos cool, chop into small pieces and set aside. Remove skin from garlic and discard. Mash garlic. Remove skin from chilies and chop or dice.
Place chopped onion in bowl with vinegar, stir to coat. Pour into colander to drain and discard vinegar. (This rids the onion of a strong taste.) Add cilantro, salt, pepper, mashed garlic, chopped chilies, and tomatillos. Mix well.
Peel and pit avocados. Add avocados to tomatillo mixture and mash with potato masher until well blended. Taste for seasoning and serve at room temperature with chips. May be made up to 8 hours ahead of serving time and refrigerated. Use in 2 days. (Mine never lasted that long as we always snacked while waiting for everyone to get there for a meal! If you weren’t there early, you probably didn’t get even a taste!)