Going Crazy For Eggplant

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Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, relative to potatoes and tomatoes. Technically, it is a fruit—specifically a berry—but almost always thought of as a vegetable.

You’ll find eggplants ranging in size from 2 inches to 12 inches long, and colors, from deep, dark purple to nearly pure white. When buying eggplants, look for firm, smooth, unblemished skins on purple or white globes that are heavy for their size. A small eggplant is usually sweeter than a large one, and be sure to avoid brown or soft spots. After purchasing, store in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.

Fried eggplant is the most common preparation, usually dipped in egg and crushed cracker crumbs, and then fried in oil. As an alternative, the herb-scented eggplant slices are a super delicious dish, without extra calories, that works well with chicken or beef. Also, rubbing ginger and garlic into Japanese eggplant before grilling packs a wallop of flavor with little effort; I serve this dish with fish. Finally, baba ghannouj with tomatoes and herbs is a nice variation from the regular recipe.

Bon appétit!

Grilled Eggplant With Ginger, Jalapeño Pepper And Sesame Oil(Serves 4 to 6)12 Japanese eggplants, or assorted small eggplants, unpeeled, ends removed and discarded

1/4 cup safflower oil

3 inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon jalapeño pepper, finely minced, or to taste

3½ tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1/3 cup fresh cilantro and parsley, chopped and mixed togetherTo prepare:Preheat the grill, until the coals are white hot.

Lightly oil the grid.

Wash eggplants.

Score the skins in a crosshatch pattern with a sharp knife, being careful not to slice through the eggplants.

Brush with oil.

Evenly distribute ginger, garlic and jalapeño on the skin of the eggplants.

Rub seasonings into the grooves.

Grill eggplants, until the flesh is soft and the skin is brown, about 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Transfer eggplants to a cutting board.

Cut into bite-sized pieces.

Transfer to a serving platter.

Drizzle soy sauce and sesame oil over the vegetables.

Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Scatter herbs over the whole affair and serve.Baba Ghannouj With Garlic, Tomato, And Herbs(Makes about 3 cups)3 medium eggplants, about 3 pounds total

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, to taste

2 teaspoons za’atar

1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2 large, firm tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to tasteTo prepare:Preheat the grill, until coals are white hot.

Place eggplants directly on the grid.

Grill eggplants, using tongs to turn them often, until the skin is charred, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Set aside to cool.

Halve eggplants lengthwise.

Scoop out the flesh.

Transfer flesh to a strainer, allow liquid to drain.

Let stand, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Combine garlic, shallot, cumin, za’atar and parsley in a mixing bowl.

Add drained eggplant.

Mix together with a fork, until well blended.

Add tomatoes.

Add enough olive oil to bind the mixture.

Season with lemon zest, juice, salt and pepper.

Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Serve with pita bread, crudités, or use as a topping for baked potatoes, or a stuffing for tomatoes or sweet peppers.Herb-Scented Eggplant Slices(Serves 4)2 pounds eggplants, washed, stem ends removed and discarded

Kosher salt

Olive oil, for dipping and drizzling

Juice of 2 lemons

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Smoked paprika, to taste

1½ cups fresh mixed herbs, chopped (parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, Greek oregano and sage)

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese or bread crumbs

Optional:

2 firm tomatoes, cored, seeded and choppedTo prepare:Cut eggplants into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Sprinkle with salt.

Let stand, about 15 minutes.

Place in colander.

Rinse with cold water.

Drain well.

Pat dry with paper towels.

Sprinkle with pepper and paprika.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Lightly coat the bottom of a large baking dish with oil.

Toss the herbs together in a mixing bowl with just enough oil until they glisten.

Coat the eggplant slices with herbs.

Place a layer of slices in the prepared baking dish.

Sprinkle lemon juice and olive oil.

Repeat with another layer.

(Optional: Scatter tomatoes between the layers of eggplant.)

Continue until all the eggplant is in the dish.

Scatter cheese, or bread crumbs, or both, over the top.

Bake, until the eggplants are tender to the point of a fork, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Let stand, about 10 minutes, before cutting into individual portions.

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