Sunday, August 23, 2015

Culinary Corner: The Mighty Eggplant

Elizabeth Hinds' latest installment is an entry on how to use eggplant.  Please note her comments about sweating eggplant and her addendum about smaller/younger eggplant.  We tend to agree that sweating isn't something that is appealing and neither of us care for a bitter tasting eggplant.  From a grower's perspective, we can tell you that part of the key is getting eggplant fruit that are "younger."  They may still have some size to them, but that is a function of the growing conditions of the eggplant.  During perfect conditions, a young eggplant can have some decent size.  During poorer conditions, even a small eggplant can be on a plant too long and get bitter.  In order to do our best to insure that you get younger eggplant, we pick try not to leave any fruit on the eggplant for more than one week.  Any fruit that seem 'off' to us are discarded. [ed. RF]

Black Beauty eggplant
I haven't always loved eggplant. Like many people, I was introduced to the underwhelming eggplant parmesan dish and assumed I just didn't like the vegetable. It's not impossible to find good eggplant parmesan, but more often than not the meal is rubbery or soggy, or drowning in sauce. No thanks.

I also found that many recipes required heavy salting to sweat the eggplant and I disliked the resulting texture and no matter how hard I tried, the end result was always too salty for me (**see below). 

Casper eggplant
The real turning point came when I attempted to recreate a spicy eggplant dish for my mom from one of her favorite restaurants. The result was an almost creamy eggplant that was sweet, and savory and salty with a little kick from chili flakes. Because the original recipe includes a lot of ingredients that those with allergies may find problematic, I've included a few ingredient alternatives and where to find them!

Spicy Eggplant
  • 1 lb Eggplant
  • 1 tsp Tahini (OR 1/2 tsp cornstarch)
  • 1 tbsp Raw Sugar (OR 2 tsp honey)
  • 2 tbsp Soy Sauce (OR 2 tbsp Tamari {Gluten-Free, available in organic section at Hyvee or online},OR Coconut aminos {Soy-free, available online}, OR 3 tsp Worcestershire with 2 tsp water and 1/4 tsp salt)
  • 2 tbsp Oyster Sauce (OR Worcestershire)
  • 1 tbsp Rice Vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp chili flake (optional)
  • Canola oil for frying
  • Brown Rice, to serve
Extra tools to gather before you start:
  1. Baking sheet lined with a towel to place the cooked eggplant
  2. A metal slotted spoon to remove the eggplant from the oil
  3. A large, heat-proof container for the hot oil after frying
In a medium pot, heat about 1 inch of oil over medium high heat. Whisk all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
Peel the eggplant with a vegetable peeler, then cut into 1 inch cubes, and use one of the cubes to test the oil. When it begins to sizzle, the oil is ready. 
Working in batches, fry the eggplant until golden, stirring occasionally, about 2 mins. As the eggplant cooks, remove them with a slotted spoon and set them on the towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Once you've cooked all the eggplant, pour off the oil into a heat-proof container and set somewhere safe to cool. Place the pot back on the stove and add the sauce ingredients. Cook for about a minute, then add the eggplant back in and stir to coat. Serve with brown rice. 

Pintung Long eggplant

**Even though every eggplant recipe I've ever found instructs you to sweat the eggplant to prepare it for cooking, it's not always necessary! Smaller eggplants, such as those you'll get from GFF, don't have the same bitterness of the large purple vegetables you'll find at the grocery store. If you decide to try this recipe with grocery store eggplant, you still don't have to sweat it first! The high heat of frying will remove the bitterness.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:10 PM

    Thanks, Elizabeth! I, too, count myself among the eggplant skeptics. This is one of the few veg that Rob likes better than me. But, since we grow it and often have leftover, I am learning to use it. My most recent effort was a simple stirfry with summer squash, zucchini, onion and both Casper (white) and Pingtung eggplant cut into cubes. I sauteed with olive oil, then added a little water and covered to finish cooking (a bit of steam seemed called for and when covered, I could leave unattended while I checked on the noise the hens were making...) and seasoned with sea salt, ground paprika and a few chili flakes. We ate half and I froze half that will show up in a soup in the winter. Yummy. Yes, even I said the eggplant in here were yummy. Tammy


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