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Eggplant comes in a range of shapes and colors. Globe eggplants are the largest and most common type. Different varieties of the plant produce fruit (yes, eggplant is a fruit) of different sizes, shapes and color. A much wider range of shapes, sizes and colors are grown in India and elsewhere in Asia. Colors vary from white to yellow or green, as well as reddish-purple and dark purple. Some eggplant have a color gradient, from white at the stem to bright pink to deep purple or even black. Green or purple eggplant in white striping also exist.

Traditional, white-skinned, egg-shaped eggplant include ‘Casper’ and ‘Easter Egg’. Bi-colored cultivars with color gradient include ‘Rosa Bianca’, ‘Violetta di Firenze’, ‘Bianca Sfumata di Rosa’ (heirloom) and ‘Prosperosa’ (heirloom). I prefer the smaller version of the larger purple skinned eggplant that is often called Italian or baby eggplant, especially the Rosa Bianca variety. These have a somewhat more intense flavor, few seeds and the flesh is much more tender.

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Eggplant is at its best in the summer. The flesh of an eggplant should give a bit when gently pressed; it should have no hard spots. The skin should be shiny and smooth, not mottled. Stems should be green. Avoid any with brown or soft spots.

Whole eggplant will keep up to a few days in a cool place. Avoid storing in the refrigerator, as this will damage the eggplant’s texture. It is best to use eggplant as soon as you can because the flesh turns bitter quickly, even when they are not overripe. There are as many variations on the reasons for using salt on eggplant as there are celebrity chefs. The main reason to use salt on eggplant is because the fruit has a very high moisture content. When eggplant is broiled or sautéed in a pan, it will usually steam and end up being mushy. The solution is to draw the moisture out before cooking. By sprinkling salt on the eggplant, water is drawn to the surface. Crystals of salt (no matter what the size) dissolve in the moisture on the surface of the eggplant and form a concentrated salt solution. The high concentration of salt then pulls moisture from inside the fruit. Rinsing and patting dry the eggplant won’t result in it absorbing a significant amount of water (it is porous but not a sponge). The more salt you use or the longer it is on the eggplant, the more effective this technique will be.

The other reason given for salting eggplant is to remove bitterness. This is a bit of an old wives tale. Eggplant becomes bitter as it ages. All of the salt in the world can’t change that. The key is to buy fresh eggplant and use it quickly.

Eggplant has a great deal of flavor and it is good for you. There have virtually no calories (about 20 calories in a cup of raw fruit). There’s very little fat or carbohydrates but it has a fair amount of fiber (2 grams in a cup). Eggplant makes the perfect base for a variety of delicious entrees, side dishes and snacks.

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Eggplant Appetizer

For the grilled eggplant:

  • 8 – 1/2 inch slices eggplant
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Brush eggplant slices with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Grill directly over medium coals or medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender, turning once. Cool slightly.

For the dip:

  • 1 cup canned garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup grilled eggplant
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Garnishes:

  • Olive oil and fresh mint
  • Walnuts, toasted
  • Grilled pita wedges or focaccia

Directions

In a food processor finely chop chickpeas, mint and garlic. Add lemon juice, salt and grilled eggplant. With the processor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream and process until smooth. Transfer to a serving dish; drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle fresh mint and walnuts on top. Serve with grilled pita or focaccia.

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Pasta with Grilled Eggplant and Burrata Cheese

Burrata cheese is a creamier cousin of mozzarella. Pennoni pasta come from the Campania region and belong to the short, smooth diagonal pasta cuts.

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 5 medium eggplants, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 fresh red chili, thinly sliced
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 pound pennoni, rigatoni or orecchiette, cooked until al dente (1 cup pasta cooking water reserved)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 8 ounces burrata or mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup small basil leaves

Directions

Heat an outdoor or indoor grill to medium. Brush eggplants with oil. Grill, turning occasionally, until soft and cooked through, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; let cool. Coarsely chop eggplant.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook garlic until golden, about 3 minutes. Add eggplant and chili; toss to coat. Season with salt.

Toss in pasta, reserved cooking water,  lemon zest and juice. Remove from heat. Stir in burrata and mint. Serve immediately.

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Grilled Vegetable Muffaletta

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
  • Coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup pitted mixed olives, such as Kalamata and Cerignola
  • 2 pepperoncini (peppers), stemmed and seeded
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for grilling
  • 4 plum tomatoes (1 pound), sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise 1/4-inch-thick
  • 1 jar (12 ounces) roasted red peppers, patted dry
  • 1 (8-inch) round loaf rustic bread, split horizontally and hollowed out

Directions

In a colander, toss eggplant with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Let stand 30 minutes. Rinse and dry eggplant.

In a food processor, pulse olives, pepperoncini and parsley until very finely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in yogurt.

Heat a grill or grill pan to medium. Lightly oil the hot grill.

Mix eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini with oil and season with salt. Grill, turning frequently, until tender and slightly charred, about 4 minutes for tomatoes and about 7 minutes each for eggplant and zucchini.

Spread bread with olive mixture. Assemble sandwich with peppers, eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Serve immediately or wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

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Roasted Eggplant Wrap

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • Vegetable oil, cooking spray
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 small onion, peeled, root end left intact, halved lengthwise, cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 cup drained canned chickpeas, rinsed
  • 6 ounces cherry tomatoes (about 11 tomatoes), halved (quartered if large)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 4 whole-wheat wraps ( 8 inches each)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Whisk vinegar, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon each thyme and oregano in a small bowl; set vinaigrette aside.

Lightly coat a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Mix eggplant, zucchini, onion and remaining 2 teaspoons each thyme and oregano in a large bowl. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Roast, tossing occasionally, until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Transfer vegetable mixture to a large bowl. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and salt; season with pepper. Drizzle with vinaigrette; toss to coat.

Arrange mozzarella in the center of each wrap. Top each with 1 1/4 cups of the vegetable salad. Roll up and cut in half.

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Baked Eggplant Fries

Serves 3

Ingredients

  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 1 1/2 cups panko crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup Marinara (tomato) sauce

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir together the panko, rosemary, thyme, paprika and salt in a shallow dish.

Cut each slice of eggplant into three somewhat equal pieces

In a separate dish, whisk the egg and olive oil together.

Dip an eggplant slice into the egg mixture and then dredge in the panko mixture. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining eggplant.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning once, until the fries are crispy and golden brown. Serve immediately with heated marinara sauce.

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