Cooking with Tammy Kelly: Everything about eggplant

Cooking with Tammy Kelly: Everything about eggplant

Tammy Kelly, Lenoir County Cooperative Extension Director, poses at the front of the rebuilt office. Photo by William 'Bud' Hardy / Neuse News

It’s that wonderful time in summer when eggplants in their many shapes and colors have taken over more than a few tables at the farmers market. While eggplant is readily available throughout the year, its peak season is right now, from early August through October.

From choosing the right fruit (yes, eggplant is a fruit!), to storing it and of course, eating it, here’s everything you need to know about eggplant! Along with tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes, eggplant is a member of the nightshade family.

There was a time when it was thought that raw eggplant was poisonous, but that's not the case.

When eaten raw, eggplant has a somewhat bitter, but pleasant taste and spongy texture. Once cooked, though, the taste becomes more mild and a bit richer. It also takes on a soft, creamy texture.

How to choose an eggplant

No matter the variety, choose an eggplant that feels firm and heavy for its size. The skin should be vivid, glossy looking and free from scars or blemishes. Avoid eggplants with discolored skin or any bruising, which usually indicate damaged flesh on the inside.

Storing eggplant

It's best to use eggplant soon after buying or picking it from the garden; within one to three days is a good rule of thumb to follow. Eggplant is delicate and doesn't store well for long periods of time. Store eggplant in a cool, dry area and avoid keeping it in the refrigerator. Eggplant is generally grown in temperate climates and doesn't fare well in cold temperatures, like that of your refrigerator.

Eating eggplant

There are so many ways to enjoy eggplant! It can be eaten raw, but has more taste and better texture when it's grilled, baked, braised or cooked and pureed into a dip.

Classic Ratatouille

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 small bay leaf
1 small eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into thin slices
1 red bell pepper, cut into slivers
4 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Over medium-low heat, add the oil to a large skillet with the onion, garlic, and bay leaf, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened.
Add the eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until the eggplant has softened. Stir in the zucchini, red bell pepper, tomatoes, and salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the basil and few grinds of pepper to taste.  Can be served on its own, over eggs, toast, or pasta!
Serves 4, each serving contains:  Calories 151, Fat 11 g, Carbohydrates 14 g,
Protein 3 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 586 mg.  

Eggplant Parmesan with Orzo

1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 medium eggplant
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon water
1 large egg
3/4 cup panko
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
Cooking spray
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 1/3 cups lower-sodium marinara sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Arrange oven rack 10 inches below broiler element. Preheat broiler to high.
Cook orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and return to pan. Add parsley, oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss.
While orzo cooks, cut top and bottom off eggplant. Partially peel eggplant lengthwise with a vegetable peeler, leaving long purple stripes. Cut eggplant crosswise into 8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Place flour in a shallow dish. Combine 1 teaspoon water and egg in another shallow dish, stirring with a whisk. Combine panko, oregano, and Parmigiano-Reggiano in another shallow dish.
Dredge eggplant in flour, dip in egg mixture, and dredge in panko mixture, gently pressing mixture to adhere. Arrange on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Coat tops of eggplant slices with cooking spray. Broil 3 minutes on each side or until browned and tender but firm. Top evenly with mozzarella; broil 1 minute or until cheese melts.
Heat marinara in microwave at high for 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Arrange 1/2 cup orzo mixture on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 2 eggplant slices and 1/3 cup marinara. Sprinkle evenly with pepper.
Serves 4, each serving contains:  Calories 464, Fat 17 g, Carbohydrates 59 g,
Protein 19 g, Cholesterol 74 mg, Sodium 591 mg.  

Eggplant bacon

1 medium eggplant
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. Liquid Smoke (I am not a big fan of liquid smoke so I leave this one out)
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cut eggplant in quarters, lengthwise. Slice each quarter into long, thin strips.
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, paprika and liquid smoke.
Place eggplant slices onto baking sheets and brush both sides with sauce. Season with pepper.
Bake until eggplant is cooked through and beginning to get crisp, approximately 45-50 minutes.

Chopped eggplant dip

1 large eggplant (about 1 1⁄2 pounds)
1/2 small onion, finely chopped (1⁄4 cup)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (optional)
Kosher salt and black pepper
Pumpernickel bread and cut-up vegetables, for serving
Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Using a fork, prick the eggplant all over. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast until very tender, 50 to 60 minutes.
When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, halve it lengthwise and scrape out the flesh, discarding the skin. Finely chop the flesh and transfer it to a large bowl.
Add the onion, garlic, parsley, oil, vinegar, mayonnaise (if using), ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and mix to combine. Sprinkle with additional parsley and serve with the bread and vegetables, if desired.
Yields 4 servings, each serving contains:  Calories 140, Fat 5 g, Carbohydrates 23 g,
Protein 4 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sugars 4 g, Sodium 435 mg.

Baked eggplant

1 eggplant
1 egg, beaten
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour  
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet.
Wash eggplant and slice into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices. In a medium bowl, stir together the egg and sour cream until well blended. Toss the eggplant slices with the flour to coat. Dip one slice at a time into the batter then coat with the seasoned bread crumbs. Place coated eggplant onto the prepared cookie sheet and spray the tops with cooking spray.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn the slices over and continue to cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until both sides are brown and crisp.
Yields 4 servings, each serving contains: Calories 414, Fat 16 g, Carbohydrates 54 g,
Protein 13 g, Cholesterol 71 mg, Sodium 910 mg.

Greek tuna casserole with eggplant

⅓ cup dried whole-wheat orzo pasta
1 medium eggplant, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
1 large red sweet pepper, stemmed, quartered, and seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
3 (5 ounce) cans very low sodium tuna (water pack), undrained, large pieces broken up
1 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and quartered if needed
½ cup ripe olives, halved
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese (1 ounce)
1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Coat a 1½-quart au gratin dish with cooking spray; set aside. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with foil. Lightly coat both sides of each eggplant slice with cooking spray. Place coated eggplant slices in the prepared baking pan. Add sweet pepper quarters to pan with eggplant slices. Roast, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until eggplant begins to brown and peppers are just tender. Remove from oven; let cool. Cut eggplant and pepper pieces into ¾-inch cubes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
For lemon dressing, in a small bowl whisk together olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the lemon peel, the lemon juice and garlic. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of the oregano, the salt and black pepper; set aside. In another small bowl combine panko, the remaining 1 tablespoon oregano and the remaining ½ teaspoon lemon peel; set aside.
In a large bowl combine cooked orzo, eggplant, sweet pepper, tuna, artichoke hearts, olives and feta cheese. Stir in the lemon dressing. Spoon mixture into the prepared baking dish. Cover with foil. Bake in the 350°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle panko mixture over top. Bake, uncovered, for 5 to 8 minutes more or until panko mixture is golden brown. Serve with lemon wedges.
Each 1 cup serving contains: Calories 239, Fat 8 g, Carbohydrates 24 g, Protein 20 g, Cholesterol 37 mg, Sugars 5 g, Sodium 436 mg, Potassium 317 mg.  

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