You have all these beautiful eggplants coming in — now what do you do with them? Eggplants essentially take on any flavors you combine them with, so they are incredibly versatile.
They pair especially well with the flavor of thyme and feta, so feel free to mix and match in recipes. Larger eggplants are best roasted and the pulp mashed for baba ganoush or caponata. Small eggplants or Asian types are delicious grilled, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and served as a side to grilled meats or a large fresh salad.
Of course, eggplant parmesan is a traditional dish in which the eggplant slices are breaded and fried and served under an Italian tomato sauce and slices of mozzarella. Ratatouille is a traditional eggplant stew made with squash, cubed eggplant and tomatoes, and large eggplants are often roasted and the flesh mixed with ground lamb and seasonings and then put back in the eggplant shells to bake.
Eggplants also freeze quite well when cooked, although the flesh will not be firm when defrosted. Slice them in half, roast cut side down at 375 for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size. Scoop out the flesh and freeze in freezer bags. When thawed, add breadcrumbs, garlic, feta and other seasonings to your taste for a delicious quick dip for fresh vegetables or pita chips.
The traditional Italian eggplant is a large dark purple orb, but there are many different types available, particularly at the market. Italian eggplants are generally larger and round or oblong, in shades of purple, white and striped. Asian eggplants are long and slender and come in purple, white, pale purple and pink. There is even an orange eggplant available.
Eggplants are fairly delicate, so they need to be harvested carefully. They have spines on the stems, so take a pair of clippers with you. When harvesting or choosing from the farmers market, select eggplants with shiny, smooth skin. The more they lose their shine, the more bitter they become. Some cooks recommend slicing, salting and letting them sit for a half hour to remove some bitterness, but I’ve found this unnecessary. They sweeten elegantly when they cook.
About 2 cups of cubed eggplant, peeled or not, to your taste
1/2 cup red sweet pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped red onion (or 1 to 2 scallions, chopped)
1/4 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar or 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
Drizzle the eggplant with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and roast at 375 on a cookie sheet for about 15 minutes until tender when pierced. Place in a large bowl. Whisk dressing ingredients and toss with eggplant while still warm.
Let stand an hour or so at room temperature. Combine with remaining ingredients and serve at room temperature or chilled.
Kate Jerome, a Kenosha writer and teacher, holds a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and is the former Urban Farm director at Gateway Technical College. She is the owner of the consulting business Kate Jerome’s Garden to Kitchen. Her website is www.kjerome.com.