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  • Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

    Eggplant can be roasted with flavoring from salted anchovies, garlic and rosemary.

  • Joe Yonan / The Washington Post

    Ratatouille, a dish created from eggplant, wrapped in tomato crepes. Summertime cooking can be made easy with eggplant and other fare from the garden, produce aisle or farmers market. Eggplants are about to hit their full seasonal stride.

  • Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

    These plump eggplants await kitchen treatment, which can range from simple to all-out.

  • Bonnie Jo Mount

    Grilled ratatouille with garlic-herb pesto prepared by Stephanie Sedgwick for Mindful Makeover in Vienna, Va.

More Information

  • The goods on eggplant
  • In Season: Eggplant recipes
  • Grilled ratatouille salad

    Prep time: 30 minutes, plus time to heat the grill

    Cook time: 12-18 minutes depending on size of grill

    Serves 6 to 8

    Stephanie Sedgwick adapted this recipe for The Washington Post.

    She writes: Ratatouille salad was one of my mom’s specialties. When I was young, I didn’t see its appeal. It took her a long time to prepare, and the result was a little oily. (Sorry, Mom.)
    Over the years I have roasted that same combination of vegetables, incorporating them into salads, pasta dishes and pilafs. In this dish, the eggplant, zucchini and onion slices are brushed with a flavorful garlic-herb oil and grilled, then immediately transferred to a bowl and sealed in with aluminum foil to finish the cooking. Roasted bell pepper and vinegar help balance the flavors.

    Note: To roast bell peppers, arrange them on a piece of aluminum foil under the broiler, about 4 inches from the flame. Let the peppers become blistered and charred on one side, then rotate so a new side is exposed. Continue until most of the skin is charred. Don’t worry if the peppers lose their form. Place the peppers in a zip-top plastic bag or a bowl covered with plastic wrap to sit for 15 minutes. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, discard their skins.

    INGREDIENTS

    1/4 cup coarsely chopped garlic
    1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
    1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh oregano
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
    1/2 cup olive oil
    Kosher salt
    Freshly ground black pepper
    1 pound thin-skinned eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch slices
    1 pound zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
    1 medium sweet onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
    1 medium red bell pepper, roasted, seeded and peeled, then cut into generous 1/4-inch pieces (see note above)
    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or more to taste

    INSTRUCTIONS

    Prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to high (500 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly in the cooking area. For a very hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 5 inches above the coals for 1 or 2 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Lightly grease the grill rack with cooking oil spray and place it on the grill.

    Combine the garlic, parsley, oregano, chives and oil in a blender or mini food processor. Purée until fairly smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste, pulsing to incorporate. It’s not important that it’s perfectly puréed. If you don’t want to use a blender or food processor, you can finely mince the garlic and herbs, and mix them with the oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

    Lay out the eggplant, zucchini and onion slices on aluminum foil-covered baking sheets or large platters. Brush the vegetables with the garlic-herb mixture on both of the cut sides.

    Working in batches, place the vegetables on the grill. Close the lid and cook for about 3 minutes, until the vegetables have good grill marks. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the vegetables from burning. Turn them over, close the lid and cook until the second sides have good grill marks.

    Transfer the cooked vegetable slices to a large bowl and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Repeat until all the vegetables are grilled, then let them rest, covered, for 15 minutes.

    Cut the vegetables into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine the eggplant, zucchini and onion with the roasted bell pepper and the vinegar; stir to combine. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

    Per serving (based on 8): 80 calories, 2 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 40 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

In Season: Eggplant becomes the ultimate meat substitute

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 - 3:14 pm

Whether luxuriously purple or pearly white like its namesake, eggplant is a staple of the summer garden and dinner menu.

With growing interest in vegetarian entrees, eggplant probably has never been more popular in America. With firm texture and satisfying taste, it’s the ultimate meat substitute.

“Eggplant can be incorporated into many recipes as a low-calorie meat replacement or eaten on its own,” according to Take Pounds Off Sensibly, the nationwide weight-loss support organization that recommends eggplant as part of a healthful diet. “Baked or grilled, eggplant is a great choice at just 30 calories per cup. Its low sugar content and muscle-strengthening high potassium level make it a powerhouse of taste and nutrition.”

Sacramento-area restaurant chefs aren’t worried so much about calories as they are flavor. Absorbing and melding the tastes around it, eggplant serves as a wonderful base for many cuisines. From familiar eggplant Parmigiana and ratatouille to moussaka and baba ghanouj, eggplant travels the food world with ease.

“Eggplant stands alone … a food like no other,” recently wrote Mark Bittman, the New York Times’ longtime food expert and cookbook author (“How to Cook Everything.”). “(It’s) beloved and appreciated worldwide and deserving of respect, not as a meat substitute but as a treasure in itself.

“It isn’t a competition, but if you asked me the old desert-island question, I’d take eggplant before any meat I could think of – and, yes, that includes bacon,” Bittman added. “It would be ridiculous to claim that eggplant can outperform meat, but it’s not a stretch to see it as useful as any one cut of meat.”

Bittman particularly loves eggplant as a condiment, roasted over coals and mashed with olive oil, garlic and other seasonings; similar to the classic baba ghanouj of the Middle East. But eggplant also deserves to be center plate, grilled or broiled like a steak until tender.

From August to October, California eggplant season is at its peak, although it’s available in supermarkets from overseas producers year round. Most of the nation’s summer eggplant supply comes from Florida and California.

Like other summer vegetables or fruit that need heat to ripen, eggplant has been slow to hit its stride this summer in Sacramento. The same goes for tomatoes, eggplant’s close cousin. (And yes, eggplant also is considered a fruit.)

“The weather has been very, very cool,” said Suzanne Ashworth, who grows 15 varieties of eggplant in West Sacramento at Del Rio Botanical. “I just took my sweater off. This cool summer is causing tomatoes and eggplant not to ripen. They need warm nights to really get going.”

Del Rio supplies eggplant to many local restaurants.

“We’re growing a lot of baby white eggplant for Kru, plus a lot of different varieties for Ella’s,” Ashworth said.

Many of these varieties trace back to Japan or Italy, where they’ve been cultivated for hundreds of years. Despite its reputation for bitterness, eggplant generally is mild, absorbing flavors with which it is cooked.

Cooks traditionally salt and “purge” eggplant to remove excess moisture and make its flesh “meatier.” Ashworth prefers not to salt it first.

“Eggplant needs a little bit of moisture to steam,” she said. “Otherwise, it can get very rubbery. So, I don’t recommend salting it.”

Her favorite method of cooking eggplant: Make “slippers” or “boats.” This works best with a smaller eggplant or elongated Japanese varieties.

“Definitely, make little slippers,” she said. “Half the eggplant lengthwise and scoop out some of the flesh. Cut up some tomatoes and onions, add some strong herbs such as oregano, rosemary or basil, and a little salt and pepper. Pack that into the eggplant halves. Cover and cook in the oven (at 350 degrees) or on top of the stove. Let it steam; it makes cooking eggplant much quicker, about 15 minutes. You can top the slippers with cheese or bechamel sauce before or after cooking.”

The “slippers” are ready when fork-tender. Add rice, peppers, bread crumbs or other filling as desired. They make an easy summer side dish or meatless main course.

Or put some eggplant slices on the grill. Seasoned and topped with favorite condiments between two buns, they can make a flavorful, guilt-free “burger” – straight from the garden.


Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington



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