Wednesday, 14 September 2011

SmartCooks Favourite Eggplant Recipes

September 21, 2011

SmartCooks here. 
Thumbnail for version as of 00:00, 12 May 2008
So, Eggplant.  We love Eggplant. 
Let's say it again. 
Eggplant.    We love Eggplant.  

Husband has probably stopped reading at this point.  I can hear him saying he will never eat anything that has 'egg' plus a 'plant' as a name.   

I, on the other hand, absolutely adore Eggplant.  It's perfect meatless dinner for me.  I love any type of eggplant -- I have four dishes in particular that I make, a couple a little fiddly so I save making them for weekends and usually as a Saturday night meal.  I want to preserve them here on SmartCooks. I will add more as time goes by so here we go... 

SmartCooks Favourite Eggplant Recipe Collection

Starting with four favourites...

1) Turkish Stuffed Eggplant (posted September 21, 2011)
2) Eggplant Smitten Kitchen style (to follow)
3) Eggplant steaks (to follow)
4) Japanese Style Grilled Eggplant (to follow)
Eggplant Through the Ages   

But, before the recipes, a bit of context.

Eggplant is called other names but the one I see most often as a synonym is 'aubergine' which is the French expression.  Like Husband, most North Americans knew little about it until a decade or two ago.  Certainly, my mother NEVER bought it nor do I even remember seeing it at the London Market Mall.  I think it was well into adult life here in Ottawa before I started to savour it.  I probably first ate it as part of an Asian dinner.

Its origins date back to 3 AD in India and in Asia.  In its early days it was considered both a vegetable AND a fruit.  Initially, Europeans were suspicious of it, thinking that consumption of it caused insanity.  (No doubt Husband has heard this and has helped to form his negative opinion of Eggplant.)  When it arrived in the US, former presidents first used it as a table ornament (hmmm... ). 

Variety! Colour! Versatility!  

It is a handsome vegetable.  I kid you not!  The purple Black Beauty (see left) is most widely available here around Ottawa especially in the staid one-size-fits-all supermarkets. 

Sometimes, you can find the Purples globes in all shapes and sizes -- long, straight, curly, shiny, gleaming, waxen, twisted, and short.  (Ten points if you know what song ... I'm humming it now.)   (Hint:  Hair)

Moving on.... I get bored with the Grocery Store Purples (I find them too big for one) and am always on the hunt for more interesting colours, types, sizes etc.  The web is a good source for what the other varietis offer, especially Cook's Thesaurus

 I don't have to look too far for more variety at farmer's markets before I find more interesting varieties.  For example, there's Japanese or Asian eggplants that I like for one person use.  They tend to be long and slender and can be easily baked or grilled. 
Colour... purple. white, striped, apple green  .... I mix it up!  There are literally dozens of different colours, shapes, sizes, tastes.   

Farmers' markets tend to offer a wider selection and types, including heirloom ones (striped) that would NEVER make it to the supermarket (not Loblaws anyways). And yet they tend to be so much sweeter and milder in taste. 

Local markets are also much better at offering different sizes ....  elongated, teardrop, slender, egg-shaped and even miniature cute-y ones.  The smaller ones tend to be less bitter.  Again, perfect for the one eggplant eater household (like moi)!   

Are Eggplants Sexy? How to Choose the Best Eggplant

This will bowl you over ... It did me.  I learn something new every day. 

It turns out that there's a Mother Nature knows the reason for why some eggplants you buy taste more bitter than others.  I always assumed it had something to do with the size of the eggplant.  Wrong-o.  Turns out there are more seeds in some and less in others because the seed-y types are girls and the non-seedy types are boys.  It's the seed-y ones, aka the girls that can give the bitter taste.  As I aside, who'd have known.....

It gets better.  So, how do I tell them apart?  Check their bellybuttons.  If the belly button is a small slit or dash, it's a girl, aka likely more seed-y aka bitter.  If the belly button is round, it's a buy and more likely better tasting.  So boys, put that one in a song:  'What are little good-tasting boy eggplants made of?' Score 100 for Mother Nature. 

Warning, though, the Internet research is divided over the above but what the heck, I will give it a try.


1) Turkish Stuffed Eggplant

This recipe is from one of favourite (and nearly only remaining) hard-covered cookbooks, entitled "'New Vegetarian':  Bold and Beautiful Reciples for Every Occasion."   And this one definitely suits any occasion perfectly.   
Eggplant is widely used in Turkish cooking.  Stuffing the eggplant is a bit like making devilled eggs -- take out the innards, do lots of good things to it, stuff it back in and then grill or bake it. 

The recipe recommends using a long, slender eggplant, big enough to hollow out and stuff; the rounder or plumper varieties may take too long to cook evenly without burning.  Actually, I've used all types of eggplants and got it to work well.  More on that later on. 

2 medium eggplants, preferably long and thin
1/2 cup couscous (plain, lemon/spinach, roasted garlic... all work equally well)
3 T olive oil, plus extra for brushing eggplant
2 medium onions, chopped (I use yellow or white)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinammon
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup pine nuts
6 dates, pitted and chopped
1 T orange flower water (optional, but I always use it and it adds a delicate flavour)
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 medium tomato, cut in half
kosher salt or sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

To serve:
- Plain yogurt
- Lemon wedges

Serves 4 if a main course, up to a dozen if an appetizer


1.  Using a rolling pin, gently beat the eggplants all over without breaking the skin.  Massage them with your hands, rolling them back and forth on a work surface until the inside are collapsed and quite flat, about 1 inch thick.  (Note:  It took some practice with this but I finally got it right).  (Other Note:  now is the time to Pam your skillet... experience). 

2.  Make a shallow cut around the stem ends of the eggplant, but do not cut through completely.  Twist the top, then pull it off -- the core should come away too.  Scoop out the inside of the eggplants and coarsely shop and set aside.  Sprinkle a little salt inside the cavity, then put the eggplant, cut side down, in a colander over a bowl to drain.  (Note:  I haven't yet managed to get a core looking like the one in the picture.  Worst case scenario the skin tears as you are scooping.  Do NOT panic.  Alternate suggestion is at end of recipe). 

3.  Now is the time for the filling.  First, make the couscous by putting it in a bowl, cover it with boiling water, and let it soak for 15 minutes.  Drain if necessary and fluff and set aside.  Then, heat 2 T of olive oil in the skillet, add the onions, chopped eggplant, and salt, and sauté until soft and golden.  Add the garlic, cinnamon, and cumin and cook for 2 minutes until fragrant (yummm).

4.  Transfer filling to a bowl.  Heat the remaining oil in the skillet and add the pine nuts.  Sauté until golden, then add to the mixture, along with the dates, orange flower water, parsley (if using), and couscous.  Season with S & P and mix well. 

5.  Spoon the mixture into the eggplant, pushing it firmly into the cavities (eggplants will resume their former shape). 

6.  Push half a tomato into the top of each stuffed eggplant to plug the hole.  Brushly olive oil lightly all over the eggplants and tomatoes.

7.  Cook on a hot outdoor grill, turning frequently with big tongs, until very tender and well brownded, about 30 minutes.  Slice into thick disks and serve with yogurt and lemon wedges.

----- To cook in the oven, put the eggplant in a roasting pan (with PAM) and pour in 1/2 inch depth of vegetable stock and 2 T olive oil.  Cover with tin foil and roast in a preheated over at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes, until very tender.
----- If (and it will) eggplant rips by beating or scooping it, don't despair.  I just open up the eggplant and lay the filling on one side and cover the filling with the other side of the eggplant....  more like a sandwich.  In this case you don't need the tomato.  Turning onthe grill requires wide flippers.  Eggplant can still be sliced and is just as delicious. 

(More SmartCooks Eggplant recipes in the coming days).  Convinced it's food yet, Mr. Husband?

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