Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

CSA Tip:  Uses for lettuce other than salad

Ok, I admit it….I HATE making salad.  I will spend hours on just about any other kind of dish, but I loath spending 10 minutes putting together a salad.  Yet we have had an abundance of lettuces of every kind this season at the farm and I have had to look into other ways to use it.  Here is what I have come up with.
Some of these ideas are not new….just think of them as reminders.  Others might surprise you.  For a great list of ideas and recipes, click on the following blogs.(4 lettuce ideas)   (Other Lettuce Ideas)
–Use lettuce leaves like you would a wrap or tortilla for sandwiches or tacos.  Just try it with your favorite fillings.  It is a very low calorie and fun option!
–Brush sturdy lettuce heads (like romaine) with olive oil and grill them.  They become a tasty and unique side dish, or serve them with salad dressing.
–Don’t forget to add lettuce to tacos and burritos.  Serve quesadillas on a bed of sliced lettuce.
–Make Vietnamese lettuce wraps.  I can’t believe I am giving away this recipe….it is the absolute best!!!   Don’t let the list of ingredients scare you off…Vietnamese Chicken Lettuce Wraps
            –Try quick sautéing and/or braising lettuce.  (See above posts)
–make lettuce soup (a great way to use up some potatoes too) (see above posts)
            –make lettuce sauce/dressing (see above posts)
–use lettuce as a garnish for soups/stews/pastas—adds a nice textural element
            –Put it on your sandwich (I tend to forget I have it!!)
            –make smoothies (see my post for a kale smoothie…substitute lettuce)
            –top omelets with it
            –Forgo the bun and serve your burger on a bed of shredded lettuce
–wrap a leaf of lettuce around seasoned fish and a slice of lemon, place in a sealed foil packet and bake until fish is just cooked through.
Please feel free to add to this list and share your ideas with fellow CSA community members….simply enter your comments at the end of the post.

Featured Item—Japanese Eggplant

While many varieties and colors of eggplant exist, two general types are most familiar in the US.  They are globe and Asian eggplants.  Globe, or Italian eggplants, are large, oval-shaped and deep purple; whereas Asian eggplants tend to be long and thin, with a slightly lighter color.  At Holcomb, Japanese eggplant, a variety of Asian eggplant, is grown and much beloved.
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 can also be a function of age and skin.  While globe eggplants do tend to have slightly thicker skins, if they aren’t too big or over-ripe, they can be as sweet and succulent as the Asian varieties.
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 meats 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. Because Asian eggplants tend to be narrower, it is harder to grill slices or bake or grill them whole.  Thus, I prefer to use Japanese eggplants for sautés and braises.  See last year’s post for some quick and easy Japanese eggplant recipes, including a great recipe for eggplant fries Eggplant Recipes.
I have found that in many preparations, eggplant can tend to dry out before it gets sufficiently soft.  This is often avoided by a) adding plenty of liquid to the pan, b) by adding a sufficient amount oil, c) by lowering the temperature, d) by covering it during and after cooking to allow steam to re-moisturize it, and/or e) 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 like Japanese eggplant, but is often recommended for globe eggplant.
Choose firm eggplants without marred or bruised skin or soft spots.  Stems should be a nice green.  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 it to soften and lead to a bitter taste.  It should keep at least a week.
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 4 minutes.  Drain, pat dry, and freeze.
This pasta dish is great for a Sunday dinner, especially on a cooler day.

Lamb and Eggplant Ragu with Penne                                                Serves 6

– 1 -1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 3 garlic cloves, minced
– 2 tablespoons tomato paste
– 2 cups red wine
– 1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 1 bay leaf
– 2 teaspoons mined fresh oregano
– 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
– 1 japanese eggplant, medium diced
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– 14 ounces whole wheat penne
– 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid
– 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
– crumbled light feta cheese, for garnish
1. Brown lamb over medium-high heat in a medium sized pot until thoroughly cooked through.  Using pot lid as an aid, drain off most of fat.  Return pan with meat to stove and reduce heat to medium-low.  Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and translucent, about 8 minutes.  Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
2. Add wine, tomatoes with juice, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, oregano, eggplant, salt, and sugar.  Stir to combine.  Using a wooden spoon, push eggplant pieces down into liquid.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, if necessary, to keep mixture to a simmer.  Simmer for about 45-50 minutes, stirring occasionally and making sure to submerge eggplant after each stirring, until eggplant is very tender and sauce is quite thick.  Remove cinnamon stick and bay leaf.
3. Once sauce has been cooking for about 45 minutes, heat a large pot of water seasoned liberally with salt to a boil.  Add penne and cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes.  Drain.  Return drained pasta to pasta pot.  Toss pasta thoroughly with lamb sauce, mint, and 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid.  Portion into pasta bowls and sprinkle with light feta.  Serve immediately.
Indian spices can transform vegetables to a heavenly plane.  The following recipe is mild but decadent….even eggplant haters will love it.
At the time I developed this recipe, I had decided to make an entire Indian meat-free meal using mostly vegetables from the farm.  In addition to this eggplant recipe, I made Aaloo Mutter (Indian Spiced Potatoes and Peas) from a prior post using up the delicious Red Gold potatoes from last week’s distribution (Aaloo Mutter recipe).  YUM!!!   I felt like I was in an expensive Indian restaurant!

Eggplant in Indian Cashew Coconut Sauce                                    Serves 4

– 2 cups vegetable broth, preferably homemade, without salt
– 1/2 cup raw cashews
– 2 teaspoons peanut oil
– 1 large onion, chopped
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
– 1 large ripe tomato, chopped
– 2 tablespoons curry powder, plus 2 teaspoons
– 1 large Japanese eggplant, or two small
– 1 teaspoon salt, unless you are using salted broth; if so, salt to taste
– 1/4 cup light coconut milk
– 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1. Soak cashews in broth in refrigerator overnight or for 4 hours.  Puree mixture in a blender until completely smooth.  Set aside.
2. Heat peanut oil in a medium pot over medium low heat.  Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes.  Add chopped tomato, curry powder, and salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have broken down and mixture is thickened, about 6 minutes.  Add eggplant. mix well, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low.  Partially cover pan and cook, stirring every 10 minutes, until mixture is quite thick and eggplant is very soft, about 40 minutes.  Stir in coconut milk.  Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is hot and slightly thickened (if using light coconut milk be careful not to boil mixture or it can separate).  Remove from heat.  Stir in lemon juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve over hot brown rice.

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