I love mid summer at the farm. This week I will focus mainly on one of my all time mid-summer favorites, Eggplant, but will also include recipes for potatoes and Swiss Chard (and even Shishito peppers)
Eggplant is one of those vegetables that take a bit of effort to get behind, but once you have done so, you don’t regret it. When prepared correctly, eggplant is succulent, indulgent, and oh so satisfying. But more than any other vegetable I can think of, it requires the most patience and care. Unlike tomatoes and cucumbers, which are the “good girls” in the family, I think of eggplant as the troublemaker…the one that can drive you crazy and keep you on your toes, but also the one that adds special interest to the party.
Many varieties and colors of eggplant exist. You can find green, lavender, white and even orange eggplants in many shapes and sizes. Two general types are most familiar in the US, globe (or bell) and Asian eggplants. Globe/bell, or Italian-style eggplants, are large, oval or round shaped, and typically a dark shade of purple, but can also be light lavender or even white. Asian eggplants tend to be long and thin, and of a lighter color, although darker varieties do exist.
While the size and shape of the two types of eggplant lend themselves to slightly different preparation methods, their ultimate taste is barely indistinguishable. Some argue that Asian eggplants are less bitter; however, bitterness tends to be a function of age and skin. In general, eggplants that are harvested later or kept too long in storage tend to be more bitter. Some say that the thicker skins of globe eggplants contribute to their increased bitterness over Asian varieties. However, if they aren’t too big or over-ripe, globe eggplants can be as sweet and succulent as the Asian types. Many people opt to peel globe eggplants before cooking to avoid bitterness and a tough exterior, although it is simply a matter of preference. I have also read the larger and whiter the eggplant, the tougher the skins, but I haven’t tested this out yet for myself.
Eggplant offers many healthful nutrients and benefits. Its’ antioxidant properties promote cardiovascular health and may even help prevent cancer. Eggplants are high in fiber, copper and Vitamin B1. They also contain decent amounts of vitamins K and B6, as well as folate, potassium, and manganese. They are naturally low in cholesterol and fat, but do contain significant amounts of sodium, which should be kept in mind when adding additional salt.
When prepared correctly, eggplant is a divine food, with a silky soft flesh and rich taste. It is prized in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking, where it stars in dishes like Greek Moussaka, Middle Eastern Baba Ganouj, Italian Caponata, and French Ratatouille. It pairs great with many types of meat and other seasonal vegetables, especially tomatoes and zucchini.
Eggplant needs to be cooked fully in order to achieve its signature creamy texture and rich flavor. Undercooked eggplant is rubbery and unappetizing. Eggplant can be steamed, roasted, baked, sautéed, and grilled. However, I have found that on the grill or in a sauté pan it can tend to dry out before it gets sufficiently soft (such a troublemaker!). This is often avoided by a) adding water or another liquid to the pan, b) by lowering the temperature, c) by covering it during and after cooking to allow steam to re-moisturize it, d)pre-cooking it (usually steaming or boiling) and/or d) by “sweating it”.
Eggplant’s spongy texture causes it to soak up most of the oil or fat in a dish, which often leads to too much calorie-laden oil being added and absorbed. This is why recipes often direct you to “sweat” the eggplant first by salting it. The salting apparently makes the eggplant less absorbent and spongy. Some say it also removes bitter flavors. Sweating is generally not necessary for smaller, Asian eggplants, but is often recommended for globe eggplant.
To “sweat” eggplant, slice or cut it into desired shapes. Place in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Toss to distribute evenly. Allow to sit for 1 hour. Dry with paper towels. Proceed with preferred cooking method.
Choose firm eggplants without marred or bruised skin or soft spots. Stems should be nice a green. The ideal temperature for eggplant storage is 50 degrees, as colder temperatures tend to increase spoilage and bitterness. This requirement is a challenge for us here in the northeast as most cellars are hotter than this in the summer. You can leave an eggplant out on the counter for a few days, but if you need to store it longer than that, refrigerate it. Store unwashed eggplants in plastic or a kitchen towel in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. Make sure the eggplant has plenty of space so that it doesn’t get bruised by other items, which can cause the eggplants to spoil and develop a bitter taste. Eggplants should keep at least a week in the refrigerator, but they may get more bitter the longer they sit.
Cooked eggplant freezes very well, as do pre or partially cooked eggplant casseroles (like Eggplant Parmesan). According to Janet Chadwick in The Beginner’s Guide to Preserving Food at Home, blanched eggplant can be frozen as well. Add lemon juice to the water (1/4 cup per ½ gallon) to prevent discoloration and blanch for four minutes. Drain, pat dry and freeze.
One of my favorite ways to use eggplant this time of year is in combination with the other veggies that ripen at the same time, such as tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini. Below is a master recipe for a very adaptable “goulash” I make often this time of year. Below that is an example of stepping up the technique to something even more special.
You could easily add a few green peppers to this mix. Add at the same time as the onion.
Mid Summer Veggie Goulash Serves 6
– 1 small onion, chopped
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 small jalapeno, seeded, deribbed, and minced
– 1 tablespoon cooking oil of choice
– 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
– 1 medium eggplant, chopped into 1/2″ cubes
– 1 teaspoon sea salt
– 1 medium zucchini, chopped in to 1/2″ cubes
– 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
– 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
In a medium stockpot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and jalapeño and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and translucent, about 7-10 minutes. Add tomatoes and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add eggplant and salt, stir to mix well and cover. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and mix well. Cover again and cook for an additional 15 minutes or until vegetables are the desired level of tenderness. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice and serve.
I turned this version of my “goulash” into a sumptuous casserole that takes me to the exotic flavors of the Middle East.
I used sweet potato for the topping because the sweetness of the potato perfectly compliments the sweetness from the raisins and the warmth of the cinnamon and cloves. However, you could sub in the farm white potatoes if you wish.
The potatoes are here!! Just in time to tango with the eggplant!
This recipe is an adaptation from a quick recipe blurb by Kay Chung that I saw in Food and Wine magazine a couple of years ago. It combines succulent eggplant with tender potatoes in a warm caramelized salad that is highly addictive. I altered it from my original rendition to bring in shishito peppers and basil since we are receiving them in this weeks share. Beware; this might become your all-time favorite recipe!
Note that I use a 13-inch non-toxic, non stick pan for this recipe. If you don’t have a skillet that large you may want to halve the recipe (you want the vegetables to sit in a single layer in the pan so that they get nice and browned). If you don’t have non-toxic non-stick pans, use a regular pan with at least another tablespoon of oil to prevent sticking.
– 4 ounces pancetta, diced
– 2 tablespoons light olive oil
– 5 medium red potatoes, (or 1 quart small potatoes) cut into 1/2″ dice
– 1 med/large unpeeled globe eggplant (or two small Japanese eggplants), cut into 1″ dice
-5 to 10 Shishito peppers, tops cut off, chopped crosswise into quarters
– 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
– freshly ground black pepper
– 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
– 1 tablespoon Whole grain mustard
– 2 tablespoons cider vinegar (plus more to taste)
– 1 tablespoon freshly chopped basil
Finally, most of us have been enjoying beautiful Swiss chard from the fields. I typically like to keep things simple with Swiss chard and prefer a top to bottom saute (recipe below). However, this week I experimented a bit and came up with a beautiful Swiss chard flan that my family loved and that I will definitely make again (see below).
Simple Sauteed Swiss Chard with Stems
– bunch Swiss Chard, well washed but not dried
– extra virgin olive or coconut oil
– 4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
– salt and pepper to taste
1. Strip or cut away the leaves from the stem of the chard and keep separate. Cut off 1 1/2” inches of the bottoms of the stems. Then thinly slice the rest of the stems.
2. Heat a skillet (preferably food safe non stick skillet) over medium heat. Add oil and allow oil to get hot. Add garlic and chard stems. Cover skillet and cook, stirring once or twice, for about 6 minutes, or until stems get tender (if they start to stick or brown, add a bit of water). Meanwhile, chop the chard greens into bite-sized pieces. Add greens to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stir well. Cover again and cook, stirring a couple of times, for 4-6 minutes or until greens are tender.
These flans are very delicate and as such, don’t turn out well onto a plate. We ate them from the ramekins with a spoon.
You can use any size ramekin or casserole dish you wish. Just know that you will have to change the cooking time accordingly.
Lemon Scented Swiss Chard Flan Serves 6
– 1 large leek , or 1 large onion; leeks well cleaned and thinly sliced, onion finely chopped
– 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
– 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
– 1 bunch Swiss Chard, cleaned, stemmed, roughly chopped
– 1/4 cup home-made or purchased chicken or veggie broth
– 2/3 cup heavy cream
– 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
– zest of one lemon
– 1 large egg
– 2 large egg yolks
– 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 325℉. Generously butter six 3/4-cup ramekins.
2. Heat butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks or onion and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Add Chard leaves and broth and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chard has wilted. Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
3. Place cream, Parmesan, egg, egg yolks, lemon zest and salt in a blender. Add cooled chard mixture. Blend on high speed until completely smooth. Fill each ramekin about 2/3 – 3/4 full. Place in a large baking dish filled with enough water that once ramekins are gently placed in the dish, the water rises to about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until set. Remove from oven. Carefully remove ramekins (tongs help) and place on a cooling rack. Cool for 10 minutes. Serve.
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