• Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

    What an exciting week at the farm….the cherry tomatoes are ready for tasting and we have eggplant!!! Times have been tough for eggplant at Holcomb Farm in recent years. How exciting to witness such a great comeback. Great job farm team!!!!

    Featured Item—Eggplant

    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, 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.

    I am always looking for new and interesting ways to use eggplant. Here are some ideas that I have come across recently in cooking magazines and the Internet:

    • Vegetarian Spiced Eggplant with Bulgur Salad (click here)
    • Eggplant and Porcini “meatballs” in Tomato Sauce (click here)
    • Grilled Eggplant Rolls with Feta and Olives (click here)
    • Eggplant with Bacon Miso (click here)
    • Southeast Asian Grilled Eggplant Salad (click here)
    • Open faced Grilled Eggplant Sandwiches with Olive-Walnut Relish (click here)
    • Eggplant, Zucchini and Tomato Tian (click here)
    • Roasted Eggplant and Tomatoes with Tangy Cucumbers and Yogurt (click here)
    • Stuffed Eggplants with Lamb and Pine Nuts (click here)
    • Grilled Eggplant Banh Mi Sandwich with Cucumbers (click here)
    • Coal Roasted Eggplants (click here)
    • Grilled Fairy Tale Eggplant with Rosemary Garlic Oil (click here)
    • Marinated Eggplant with Green Chermoula (click here)
    • Raw Eggplant Bacon (click here)

    A Note on Fairy Tale Eggplant

    This week we get to try a new pick-your-own vegetable—Fairy Tale Eggplants. I don’t know who named these little gems, but fairy tale eggplants are truly adorable with their small size and pretty lavender hue. To try them is to fall in love. They are just so incredibly creamy and sweet. I did a little investigation and found out that these pretty purple beauties are less seedy and bitter than other varieties of eggplant. The skin tends to be very tender and the flesh cooks up sweet and creamy. Smaller eggplants (about 2”) appear to be the favorite, but they are still great anywhere from 1-4 inches in length. I have heard that these eggplants are amazing grilled whole but I haven’t tried it yet. If you try it, please let us know how it goes.

    For eggplant recipes from past Simply Fresh posts (click here) and (and here) or (here) or (here)

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    I love the combination of Mediterranean spices and eggplant. I developed this delicious chip recipe as a healthy snack option.  My family adores it.

    I decided to crisp these chips in the oven rather than the dehydrator because most people don’t have a dehydrator. If you do own one and would like to use it instead, follow the manufacturer’s directions for dehydrating eggplant.

    Middle Eastern Style Eggplant Chips

    INGREDIENTS:

    – 1 large Japanese eggplant, or two small

    – 1 teaspoon ground coriander

    – 1 teaspoon ground cumin

    – 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

    – 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    – pinch ground cloves

    -1- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, optional

    – Coconut oil spray

    METHOD:

    1. Preheat oven to 250℉. Line two un-rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Spray parchment well with coconut oil spray. In a small bowl mix coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.
    2. Using a mandolin, slice eggplants very thin. They should be as thin as possible without being translucent and should hold together.
    3. Place eggplant slices on a single layer on baking sheet (do not overlap). Spray well with coconut oil spray and immediately sprinkle seasoning over chips (there should be enough to cover two pans—use less if you are sensitive to salt). Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using.
    4. Bake on two racks in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and flip chips over (you can use your fingers, they are not that hot). Replace to oven, being sure switch pans to opposite racks. Bake for an additional 20-30 minutes or until crisp and beginning to brown. Cook time will completely depend upon how thick the chips have been cut. Remove from oven and allow to cool (they will crisp up even more as they cool).  These are best eaten right after they have cooled.  Otherwise, they tend to absorb moisture and soften.

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    This recipe is an adaptation from a quick recipe blurb by Kay Chung that I saw in Food and Wine magazine last July. It combines succulent eggplant with tender potatoes in a warm caramelized salad that is highly addictive. Beware; this might become your all-time favorite recipe…

    Warm Potato and Eggplant Salad with Mustard and Dill    Serves 4

    INGREDIENTS:

    – 4 ounces pancetta, diced

    – 2 tablespoons light olive oil

    – 5 medium red potatoes, cut into 1/2″ dice

    – 1 med/large unpeeled globe eggplant, cut into 1″ dice

    – 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

    – freshly ground black pepper

    – 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

    – 1 tablespoon Whole grain mustard

    – 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

    – 1 tablespoon freshly chopped dill

    METHOD:

    1. Heat a large (13”) skillet over medium heat (I used non-stick but cast-iron or other heavy bottomed pan would work as well). Add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and crisp. Using a slotted spoon remove pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Reserve pancetta grease in pan and return to heat. Add 2 tablespoon light olive oil. Once oil is hot, add potatoes and eggplant. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cook without stirring for 5 minutes. Turn vegetables and cook another 5 minutes to brown the bottom. Turn potatoes again, and then every 3-4 minutes to ensure even browning. Continue to cook and stir until vegetables are well browned and tender, about 15-20 minutes.
    2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk mustards and vinegar.
    3. Remove potatoes and eggplant from the heat. Quickly stir in mustard mixture, dill, and reserved pancetta until vegetables are evenly coated. Taste for salt and pepper level and add as needed. Serve immediately.
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