In a post on July 8th, I wrote about Dowey Farms, which sells produce at area farmers’ markets. Mr Raymond Dowey runs the market and offers a wide variety of fresh, quality vegetables and fruits.
At his stand, you will find many items including zucchini squash, beautiful red bell peppers, sweet onions and several types of eggplant, a great hot weather vegetable.
Eggplant originated somewhere in southeast Asia and has been cultivated at least 1500 years. Horticultural records report that ancient Chinese ladies used black eggplant skin dye to stain their teeth and make a fashion statement.
Arabs introduced eggplant to Africa and Europe; from there it traveled to the New World where it was planted in Colonial gardens. At that time, the vegetables were shaped somewhat like hen’s eggs so they were given the name, ‘eggplant.’
Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, like potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, which all originated in the New World. Tobacco belongs to this family as well as poisonous nightshade and the angel trumpet plant.
Eggplants come in a variety of shapes and sizes but Dowey Farms carries three outstanding varieties: the globe-shaped Black Beauty eggplant, the long, shiny dark purple Ichiban eggplant and the long, magenta Neon eggplant.
The standard globe eggplant sold in this country is an oval or pear-shaped, glossy, purplish fruit 6 to 9 inches long. It has long been an American favorite. Anthocyanin is the water-soluble flavonoid pigment that creates the deep purplish almost black color in eggplants. Sometimes they tend to be a little bitter and have thick skins and fibrous flesh. Eggplants should always be cooked before being eaten.
Elongate, hybrid, Asian-style eggplants like Ichiban have a milder flavor and sweet, tender dark purple skins. The name Ichiban means “number one” in Japan. This Asian-style eggplant is 9″ to 12 inches long by about 1 ½” wide.
Long hybrid Neon eggplants have a colorful, bright magenta skin. I was in a market in Taiwan during the late 70’s when I saw this eggplant for the first time. They were a revelation to see and tasted every bit as wonderful. The skin is tender; the pulp is light-colored and doesn’t taste bitter. These eggplants are good keepers.
Many cooks feel that salting eggplant removes excess moisture and bitterness. The jury is still out, but it certainly does make the eggplant very salty. This method may be more useful for large globe eggplants, which could be bitter. It is an unnecessary step for the thin long Asian style eggplants. Some small eggplants in Southeast Asia can be bitter; the Thai ones are valued in sweet sour dishes.
The Asian-style eggplants have it all- beauty, tenderness and flavor. They don’t have to be peeled before cooking. They are outstanding in braised, steamed and deep fried Asian dishes. Chinese cooks like to fry them in batter; Japanese cooks prefer tempura batter.
Wok-seared Asian-style eggplants also taste wonderful stir-fried with red peppers and onions in a spicy sauce. Eggplants can be sautÃ©ed in olive oil, stuffed and baked and grilled. They can be dipped in egg and matzo meal then sauteed on both sides.
Cooked eggplant is good in place of pasta for lasagne, on pizza and in braised vegetable stews. Grilled eggplant slices (brushed with olive oil), roasted red peppers and grilled onion slices make a wonderful sandwich on crusty bread that is spread with herb goat cheese.
Here is a simple, favorite way to prepare the Ichiban or Neon eggplants. Bake 4 or 5 in a 350 degree oven just until soft. Cool and cut in cubes. Put into a bowl and drizzle on a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and fresh minced herbs like basil, dill, parsley or marjoram. Or toss them with your favorite homemade or prepared vinaigrette dressing and serve.
If you wind up with too many eggplants, slice and bake them in the oven slightly to reduce the moisture content. Freeze the slices for later use in dishes such as eggplant parmesan, moussaka or spaghetti.
One cup serving of boiled eggplant has about 25 calories with no fat and cholesterol. It offers about 119 g potassium. .
The eggplants I found at Dowey Farms are so beautiful they would make an attractive arrangement for your table.
Here is the blueprint for a delicious layered eggplant dish. The amount of meat is small-but you don’t need a lot because the eggplant gives the dish a substantial, almost meaty taste.
4 to 5 Asian style eggplants, unpeeled or 1 large globe eggplant, peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 to 3 ounces medium to large mushooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh minced herbs (basil, parsley, thyme. marjoram or oregano)
1/2 ground chuck, pork or turkey
1 jar Barilla spaghetti sauce, or other favorite brand
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, as desired
Mozzarella cheese, freshly sliced
Trim eggplants and peel, as instructed. Parboil in salted water until barely tender. Cut into slices. In a large skillet, heat oil and saute onion, mushrooms, bell pepper and garlic until tender. Remove from skillet. In the same pan, fry the ground meat until done. Remove from heat; stir vegetable mixture into meat. Season to taste with salt, black pepper and herbs. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a 1-1/2 quart casserole dish, using half of each ingredient, make layers of eggplant slices, meat and vegetable mixture and the spaghetti sauce. Top with Parmesan cheese. Repeat with remaining ingredients; top with mozzarella cheese and any remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake in hot oven 25 to 30 minutes. Portions are delicious served on top of cooked angel hair pasta nests.
Baked Summer Vegetables
4 to 5 Asian-style eggplants or 1large globe eggplant, rinsed, cut in 1-inch cubes
About 1 cup vegetable oil, or a little more, as needed
1 large onion, cut in half, thin sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut in 3/4 inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut in 1 inch slices, halved
2 or 3 medium tomatoes, cut in chunks (can be peeled and seeded, if desired)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
About 3/4 packed cup fresh herbs, such as basil, Italian parsley, oregano, thyme (one or a blend)
Few tablespoons red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste
Imported black olives, chopped, if desired
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut eggplant. Heat 1/3 to 1/2 of the oil in a large skillet. Cook half the eggplant briefly until barely golden. Remove to a large casserole with a tight fitting lid. Cook remaining eggplant using more oil. In the same skillet, heat any remaining oil and cook onion, bell pepper, zucchini and garlic about 2 minutes. Mix in tomatoes and cook one minute. Scoop mixture into the casserole. Stir in herbs, vinegar and season, to taste.Cover with lid; bake 45 minutes to 1 hour. Taste to adjust seasonings. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and olives before serving. Tastes great at room temperature. This flavorful dish is a great accompaniment for grilled meats, poultry or seafood. Serves 4 to 6.
Grilled Asian Eggplant with Spicy Dresing
6 to 7 long, thin Asian-style eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
With a knife, score the cut sides of each eggplant half with shallow slits, cut in a criss-cross pattern. Brush lightly with oil. Place, cut side down, on a hot grill for about 5 minutes or until golden brown and grill marks form. Use double sheets of heavy duty foil to create a large package with sides to hold eggplant halves. Sprinkle dressing over eggplant. Pull up foil sides and seal tightly. Place on the hot coals 5 minutes or until eggplant is tender. Open package; garnish with sesame seeds and serve. Good warm or at room temperature.
2 tablespoons chicken broth or water
2 to 3 tablespoons quality Asian soy sauce, such as Kikkoman
1 tablespoon rice vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar (or 1 generous teaspoon brown sugar Splenda)
1-1/2 teaspoons grated or finely minced fresh, peeled ginger root
1 finely minced garlic clove
1 thin green onion, thinly sliced (scallion)
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
Combine all ingredients except sesame seeds in a small bowl.
Greek Eggplant Dip (Doubles as a salad.)
1 large eggplant or 4 to 5 Asian-style eggplants
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chopped Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 or 4 small green onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a 375 degree oven, bake eggplant that has been pricked several times with a fork. Remove after 45 minutes or when tender. When eggplant is cool, peel then chop the pulp. Put into a large bowl with remaining ingredients. Mix well and chill least one hour. Serve with rustic bread or crackers.
The Lake Carolina market is open Thursday afternoons. The entrance to Lake Carolina is off Hardscrabble Road in Northeast Columbia. Sandhill Farmers’ Market is on Tuesday afternoons and located off Clemson Road. Camden’s Farmers’ Market is open on Saturday mornings.
Read Allison Askins article on Vinaigrettes in the State Newspaper today. They would taste delicious spooned over any of these varieties of eggplant.