Eggplant 101 (and Roasted Veggie Melts)

image

“Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.” ~Elizabeth Berry

Eggplant used to scare me. I avoided it at all costs. That is until I learned about its properties and how to prepare it. If you handle it incorrectly it could be your worst nightmare but if you treat it properly, it could be your newest best friend. I want to share some secrets of the world of eggplant with you and hope that you give this magnificent vegetable a chance in your kitchen!

Varieties of Eggplant:

There are many different varieties of eggplants in the US. The most common are the Italian eggplants which are usually dark purple (almost black) and oval shaped.

image

The second most common is the Asian or Japanese eggplants. They are long and tubular, sometimes even twisty.

image

You can even find white eggplant, speckled eggplant, and more! But as far as taste goes, there is not much of a difference. Some say that the Japanese and white eggplants have a more mild flavor than the Italian varieties. To me, they taste the same. However, the Japanese eggplants do tend to have thinner skin. When deciding which variety to buy, I suggest you focus more on the shape that you want for your eggplant in whatever recipe you plan to make. For example, if making a casserole, I want my eggplant slices to be small and round, so I would go with the Japanese variety. If making eggplant sandwiches, I would choose the Italian eggplant because I like large slices that fit on my bread. It’s up to you!

Choosing Eggplant:

1. Buying local eggplants is much preferred. You are guaranteed to eat them when they are in their peak season (which means they will taste better) and of course it is one of the best ways you can be environmentally friendly. If you can’t buy them at your local farmer’s market then choose organic eggplant at your local grocery/health food store.

2. All eggplants should have smooth skin, free of blemishes and bruises, and be firm when lightly squeezed. (Don’t squeeze too hard!) Avoid an eggplant that is wrinkly or that has soft spots, those are signs that the eggplant is too old. Eggplant is best kept in the refrigerator until ready to prepare.

Preparing Eggplant:

The most important property you need to know about eggplant is that it is absorbent. Like a sponge, it will soak up any liquid that you put on it. This can be good if you are making eggplant parmesan but this can be very bad when it comes to oil. Many people (who prepare eggplant incorrectly) complain of eggplant being mushy- and it can be if you let it soak up liquid!

That is why sweating the eggplant is essential before cooking it. This is when you salt the eggplant and allow it to sit. The salt extracts the excess liquid within the eggplant, so that when you cook it and it absorbs more moisture, it isn’t too moist.

Sweating Eggplant:

Decide whether you will peel your eggplant or leave the skin on. This is up to personal preference. Then slice your eggplant as you wish, either horizontally into rounds, or lengthwise into strips/slices. Be careful not to cut your eggplant too thick or too thin, as this will either make it too dry or too moist. I usually cut mine to 1/4” thick slices. Then lay out all your slices and salt them. If you want to be really thorough you could salt both sides but I usually just do the top. Then set your kitchen timer for 30 minutes and let them sweat. When 30 minutes is up, rinse the salt off under cool water, quickly (like you would a mushroom- you don’t want it to absorb all the water!). Dry well on paper towels, pressing down lightly to absorb all the water. Then you are ready to cook your eggplant!

Cooking Eggplant:

My preferred method of cooking eggplant is roasting. You can also grill, sauté or fry eggplant (we don’t like to use the “f” word in our house!). If grilling eggplant, make sure you brush both sides of your slices with olive oil before placing on the grill. Today I’d like to focus on roasting eggplant. My instructions for roasting eggplant are included in my recipe below. I typically roast my eggplant this same way before using it in almost any recipe!

Recipe:

These “roasted veggie melts” are great for lunch or dinner. Even non-veggie lovers are sure to love this sandwich since it is reminiscent of an Italian sandwich- only in this case, sans meat. Eggplant is a great meat-replacer. If we’re at home we like to make them this way under the broiler on crusty bread. Another thing I like to do is after cooking all of these veggies let them cool and put them into tupperware containers in the fridge. Then we take regular bread to lunch, veggies, and cheese, etc. We toast the bread at work and melt everything else on the bread and it’s a healthy yummy lunch!

Roasted Veggie Melts (makes several sandwiches)

Ingredients

1 medium Italian eggplant, rinsed and dried

2 bell peppers, cut into long strips

1 yellow onion, cut into long strips

3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly

extra virgin olive oil

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 tomato, thinly sliced

Crusty rolls

provolone cheese slices

herbes de Provence/Italian seasoning

Italian dressing/mayo

Method

1. Slice your eggplant into rounds about 1/4” thick. Lay on cutting board. Salt them and allow to sweat for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

image

2. Quickly rinse eggplant slices under cool water and dry well on paper towels.

3. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray or brush with oil. Arrange eggplant slices on baking sheet. Freshly grind some pepper over them- they don’t need any more salt. Brush with a light coat of olive oil on top sides of the slices. Or you could spray them with non-stick cooking spray of your choice.

image

4. Roast eggplant in oven at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes depending on how thick or thin slices are. Check on them if needed to make sure you don’t burn them.

image

5. Sauté the onions and peppers in some olive oil over medium heat until soft, then add garlic and sauté for a minute more. Season with salt and pepper.

image

image

6. To make sandwiches, open up your hoagie rolls and lightly brush the insides with olive oil. Preheat the broiler and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (or use the same one from the eggplant) and spray with non-stick spray or brush with olive oil.

7. Lay open-faced hoagie rolls on lined baking sheet and on bottom side of each roll layer roasted eggplant slices. Then top with some of the pepper, onion and garlic mixture. Lay some slices of tomato on top, sprinkle with seasoning of your choice (I like to use herbes de Provence, hubby likes Italian seasoning) and put some provolone cheese on top.

8. Put open-faced sandwiches under broiler until bread is crisp and cheese is melted. Keep watch so they don’t burn! About 2 minutes.

9. Then drizzle some natural Italian dressing on top (or in my husband’s case he likes to put mayo on it) and Enjoy!!

image

Here are some other Eggplant Recipes that I’ve tried and really liked:

Cornmeal-Crusted Ratatouille Tart (I used whole wheat instead of cornmeal for the crust)

Eggplant Gratin

Grilled Vegetables

Stuffed Eggplant with Shrimp and Basil

– Also stay tuned for my own recipe for Eggplant Burgers coming soon!!

Photo Credits:

Japanese Eggplant

Italian Eggplant

Margherita Pizza

image

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” ~George Bernard Shaw
I love pizza. I mean, I LOVE pizza. My husband laughs at me when I say something is my favorite food. He says that “I always say that.” Well, I am a true foodie…I just love food. But c’mon, who doesn’t LOVE pizza?

 I actually didn’t have my first real slice of pizza until I was a preteen. Seriously. I was born with a severe dairy allergy- not lactose intolerance. I am allergic to the protein in cow’s milk casein. My poor Mom had to read every single label before buying food to make sure it didn’t even have any milk derivatives in it (these were the days before “allergens” were listed on the food labels!). If I had any amount of dairy I would get severe hives, my throat would close, and I would stop breathing. This didn’t happen often though (I think only once) since we watched what I ate and always had Benadryl handy, just in case.

So what do all kids have at their birthday parties to eat? Generally two things: cake and pizza. I could have neither. So that I wouldn’t feel totally left out, I was allowed to eat the pizza if I first pulled all the cheese and toppings off and if after eating it I took Benadryl immediately. I used to imagine what cheese tasted like…it was what I craved the most when I was “allergic.”

Lucky for me, allergies can change as a child goes through their adolescent years and in my case- they did in a good way. I am still technically allergic to milk just not as severely. Since 11 years old I’ve been able to eat it in small amounts. Yay!

I love every kind of pizza there is: think crust, deep dish, sauce, no sauce- you name it. But one of my favorite kinds of pizza is Margherita Pizza. But I’ve found that many restaurants don’t do it to my standards. On my ideal margherita pizza I have 3 staples: fresh basil, fresh mozzarella cheese, AND sliced tomato. That last one many places like to leave off and just leave the sauce as the tomato element.

This crust is actually Emeril’s recipe, so I gotta give him the credit. The instructions are given for someone who is making it by hand. I used my standing electric mixer with the dough hook- so you could do either one! Thin parmesan crust topped with fresh sauce, sliced tomatoes, chunks of fresh mozzarella baked in a HOT oven then topped with fresh basil = the secrets of this delicious pizza!

Parmesan Crust (makes dough for 1- 15 inch pizza crust)

Ingredients

1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)

1 (1/4 oz.) envelope active dry yeast

1 tsp. honey

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 3/4 cups of flour (I used organic white whole wheat flour)

1/2 cup of finely grated parmesan cheese

pinch of salt

yellow cornmeal for sprinkling baking sheet- to prevent sticking

Method

1. In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, honey, and 1 Tbsp. of olive oil, stirring to combine. Let set until mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. In a small mixing bowl, combine flour and cheese. Add 1 1/2 cup of flour mixture and salt into the bowl with the yeast. Mix by hand until it is all incorporated and the mixture is smooth.

3. Continue adding flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, working the dough after each addition, until dough is smooth but still slightly sticky. You may not need to use all the flour.

4. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand until dough is smooth but slightly tacky (3-5 minutes.)

5. Oil a large mixing bowl with the remaining oil. Place dough in bowl, turning to coat all sides of the dough with oil. Cover and set in a warm place, free from drafts until doubled in size- for about 1-1 1/2 hours. (*As I was making the dough I preheated my oven to “warm” and when it was done preheating I turned the oven off to allow it to cool down a bit but still be warm. I covered my bowl with a damp kitchen towel and put in oven to rise.)

6. After dough is done rising, place onto a lightly floured surface. Knead by hand about 5 times and then roll it out. Form a ball again with the dough, lightly flour, and wrap dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. (*This allows it to be easier to work with when you roll it out!)

7. Now that the dough has rested, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface to your desired thickness and size. I did a 15 inch thin crust.

Tip: Before topping, to transfer pizza dough from your surface to the pizza baking sheet, roll most of it onto your rolling pin (leaving the rest to hang) and lay onto baking sheet.

Margherita Pizza

Ingredients

1 prepared parmesan crust

~ 3/4 cup of tomato sauce (homemade preferred)

1/2 of a tomato, sliced very thinly

~ 8 oz. fresh mozzarella packed in water, drained and sliced

handful of fresh basil leaves

Method

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Brush the entire top of the crust lightly with olive oil. Use the back of a spoon to spread the desired amount of sauce onto the crust, leaving room around the edges for crust.

2. Top with tomato slices. Break pieces of mozzarella with your hand and place small pieces (~ 1 inch) over whole pizza (except crust).

3. Bake at 500 degrees for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and crust is golden. (Mine was done at 12 minutes because I wanted my cheese slightly browned) While pizza is baking slice the fresh basil leaves into small ribbons.

4. Remove pizza from oven, allow to cool slightly, then add basil. Slice and serve!

image

Enjoy!