Living out of the Garden: The Wonder of Eggplant

I planted late so our garden is ripe for the picking later than most in Fresno. My summer season veggies are officially ready now. Since we were traveling most of July and August I'm not complaining. In fact, I am marveling at the wonder of growing my own veggies. My first garden (as in my very own with no help from mama) started last winter with a few easy greens, some bok choy and some herbs. That's nothing compared to summer's bounty. Now we have cucumbers coming out of our ears, two varieties of eggplants, green peppers and several heirloom tomatoes that are not quite ripe but tantalizing me.

This week I'm on a hunt for new creative ways to eat eggplants.

Never had an eggplant? Suprisingly, they come in a lot of varieties. The classic eggplant are plump and a shiny deep purple color. Eggplant is a member of the potato family.

According to EatingWell.com, eggplant helps lower blood cholesterol levels. The deep purple skin contains anthocyanins and proanthocyanins, antioxidants that may play a role in heart health and improve brain function.

My all-time fave use of eggplant is a classic Italian recipe: Eggplant Parmigiana. Think thinly-sliced eggplant slathered in marinara sauce and topped with melty cheese. I grew up filling my belly with my grandma Sara's version of it. Three words: to die for. Unfortunately, my Grandma Sara can't cook anymore and she lives in Michigan so I'm on my own with an abundance of eggplants.

My go-to eggplant dish is to saute it with some onions and zucchini and incorporate it into an omelette. Top that baby with some fresh salsa and you are good to go.

Our cousin who lives in Spain roasts a whole eggplant along with other vegetables like red peppers and onions and then cuts them into strips for a Spanish tapa or appetizer. Just mix in some fresh garlic and drizzle with Spanish olive and voila!

For my Cooking Club one time we made this Eggplant Caprese Salad, which is easy to assemble and a lot of fun to make. The colorful stacks of thinly-sliced eggplant, tomatoes, basil and fresh mozarella oozing over the side make for impressive presentation. This is also primo on a sandwich. We grilled up some eggplant the other day, sliced some orange heirloom tomatoes from our garden and stacked on the cheese and basil. The result was an easy and elegant lunch.

Last night we made a vegetarian version of Moussaka. It's a Greek dish that showcases eggplant. It's a little involved to make because it includes a red sauce (with fresh tomatoes and cinnamon) and a cheesy white sauce on top of layers of eggplant. The aroma in the kitchen was divine. Definitely worth the extra time. And now I have new appreciation for the moussaka I've had in Chicago's Greektown. My Greek friend Mark used to take me to the Parthenon and we would order moussaka and other Greek delights. Opa!

Eggplant Parmesan inspired by Grandma Sara

-2 large eggplants
-1/2 teaspoon sea salt + more for sprinkling
-1/2 teaspoon oregano
-1/2 teaspoon basil
-2 cups whole wheat breadcrumbs (I love panko because they are crispy and light.)
-4 eggs, lightly beaten
-3/4 cup olive oil
-3 cups mozarella cheese, shredded
-1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
-4 cups marinara sauce (recipe follows)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Peel and slice eggplant 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and set aside for 15 minutes. This helps take some of the initial bitterness out of the eggplant.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the breadcrumbs by mixing in a shallow bowl with salt, garlic powder, oregano and basil.
4. Spray olive (or wipe with paper towel) onto 9x12 pan or casserole dish.
5. At this point, heat up or make the marinara sauce in a skillet.
6. In a separate skillet, heat up about 1/4 cup of olive oil.
7. Rinse salt off eggplant under cool water. Pat dry with paper towels.
8. Beat eggs in separate bowl and add parmesan cheese. Dip eggplant in egg mixture, then breadcrumb mixture and saute in olive oil until golden brown on both sides.
9. Spread one cup marinara sauce to the bottom of the pan. Layer eggplant on top. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozarella cheese and repeat. (This will feel like you are making a lasagna.)
10. Bake for approximately 30 minutes until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling slighlty in the bottom of the pan. Serve over pasta or with rice or bread.

Makes 8-10 servings.
A few other great recipes:
Garlic grilled eggplant & zucchini

What do you do with eggplant? Please share.
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