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Anatolian Creamy Eggplant and Almond Salad


The fall eggplant harvest has begun, and I had two deeply purple orbs hanging from the plant, ready to pick. But what do to with them?

I found the answer in Clifford A. Wright’s exhaustive but, unfortunately out of print cookbook, “Little Foods of the Mediterranean: 500 Fabulous Recipes for Antipasti, Tapas, Hors d’Oeuvre, Meze and More”. (A few used copies can be found, and if you like foods of the Mediterranean, I would recommend it highly.)

He has a number of eggplant options, but the one that appealed most to me was a salad or spread made with toasted almonds, Greek yogurt and pomegranate molasses. “This Turkish salad served as a meze is called nazuktan and is typical in central Anatolia,” he writes. “It is made in a number of different ways. Some cooks stir in pomegranate molasses, a taste I like in this recipe.”

You can find pomegranate molasses in specialty markets and Middle Eastern grocers, such as Ali Baba, Salaam International Food Market and Central Market.

Anatolian Creamy Eggplant and Almond Salad

1 1/2 pounds eggplant
1/2 cup blanched almonds
1/4 cup labna or Greek yogurt
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
Salt, to taste3 tablespoons finely chopped mint leaves

Anatolian Creamy Eggplant and Almond Salad

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the eggplant in a baking dish with a little water or on a rack and roast until the skin blisters black, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven an , when cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and stem and remove as many seeds as you can.

While the eggplant is roasting, place the almonds on a baking sheet and bake until golden, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. Set aside 6 or 7 almonds and grind the rest coarsely in a food processor.

Chop the eggplant and place in a colander to drain for 20 minutes. Transfer the eggplant to a large bowl and stir in the Greek yogurt, chopped almonds, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses, and season with salt.

Transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with the mint and garnish with the whole almonds.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From “Little Foods of the Mediterranean: 500 Fabulous Recipes for Antipasti, Tapas, Hors d’Oeuvre, Meze and More” by Clifford A. Wright

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Ask a Foodie: Why Would an Eggplant Be Bitter?


Q. I recently went to a farmers market and bought two smallish eggplants. They were not quite all purple, but the person selling them said the white streaks on them came from exposure to the sun. I took them home and within a couple of days sliced them, salted them, drained them and sautéed the slices to put in a pasta dish. Before assembling the dish, I took a small taste from one of the slices.

Eggplant should be ripe and (for this variety) have a firm, deep-purple skin.

It was terribly bitter, and though I didn’t swallow it, it made my throat burn. It was a very small bite, but it took a long time to get the taste out of my mouth. I threw away the eggplant and we had pasta without. Why were these so bitter?  This has never happened to me with eggplant before.

A. First of all, the problem is that these were probably young eggplants, which have a greater concentration of solanine, which is toxic. (Solanine is also found in the green part of potatoes, under the skin, and it is not good to eat it in this case, either.) Eggplant, as well as potatoes and tomatoes, are members of the nightshade family.

No matter where you are buying eggplant, be sure you are buying a mature, ripe eggplant. The information below is from Wiki Answers:

Heat (as in cooking heat) has no effect on solanine. The best way to avoid this harmful substance is to 1) choose only very ripe eggplants, 2) soak for a couple of hours in very salty warm water, rinse and soak again in tap water, 3) cook until the eggplant is very well-done (this has nothing to do with exposure to heat but rather to the breakdown in fibers and leeching out of poison this causes). Another precaution, according to Wiki,  is to peel the skin.

Connie Sheppard, with the Texas A&M University, suggested that the eggplant also might have stayed in the hot, dry sun on the vine too long. She likes to soak eggplant slices in buttermilk to get rid of any bitterness.

Also, as you noticed the extremely bitter taste when you took a small sample, it is probably a good idea to take a tiny taste first before adding to a dish or serving it to guests!

Also note that eggplant, according to Wikipedia, is richer in nicotine than any other edible plant, with a concentration of 100 ng/g (or 0.01 mg/100g). However, the amount of nicotine from eggplant or any other food is negligible compared to passive smoking. On average, 20 pounds of eggplant contains about the same amount of nicotine as a cigarette.

This is not necessarily a warning about buying produce or anything else at farmers markets. Eggplants, and many other delicious and healthful foods can be purchased there. It is a warning about knowing what you buy and how to prepare it, and what difficulties might be involved — no matter where you purchase it.

 

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Warm Eggplant (Aubergine) and Anchovy Salad (Ensalada Templada de Berenjenas y Anchoas)


Use small egplants in this warm tapas recipe.

Look for small eggplants to use in this recipe, not the ones generally used in eggplant Parmesan.

Warm Eggplant (Aubergine) and Anchovy Salad (Ensalada Templada de Berenjenas y Anchoas)

3 eggplants (see note)
1 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
3 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and crush
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Peel the eggplants – although this dish is delicious if they are not peeled – then cut them into slices about ¾ inch thick, sprinkle with salt and place in a colander. Leave for 1 hour to draw out the juices, the rinse off the salt and pat dry.

Heat the oil in 1 or 2 skillets or frying pans over low heat and arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer so they have plenty of room. Cover and cook, turning once, for 20 minutes, or until the eggplants are tender and softened. Drain off nearly all the oil, leaving just enough to prevent the slices from sticking. Sprinkle the garlic, parsley and salt over them.

Mix the anchovies with the lemon juice and season with a little pepper. Pour this over the eggplants, covering them evenly, and serve.

Note: Don’t look for the large eggplants often used in eggplant Parmesan. Look for smaller eggplants, about 8 inches in length and 3-4 inches in diameter.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From “The Book of Tapas” by Simone and Inés Ortega

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Ratatouille Lentil Stew


Lentils turn ratatouille into a main course.

“When summer’s vegetables are at their best, ratatouille is a lovely addition to the table: thick, mellow, soft and bursting with flavor without bragging,” writes Joy Bauer in “Slim & Scrumptious.” “My version features all of the usual suspects – tomato, eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers – but also introduces nutrient-rich lentils, which turn this traditional side dish into a satisfying main meal.”

Ratatouille Lentil Stew

1 small eggplant, cubed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 zucchini, cubed
1 yellow summer squash, cubed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup no-salt-added tomato paste
1 cup lentils, rinsed
4 cups unsalted or reduced-sodium vegetable broth
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Divide the eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash between two large baking sheets, and spread the vegetables out into a single, even layer on each sheet. Coat the vegetables liberally with oil spray, and then sprinkle the oregano and rosemary evenly over them.

Roast the vegetables for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender, stirring them about halfway through.

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the soup base: Liberally coat a large pot with oil spray, and preheat it over medium-high heat.

Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic to the pot. Sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened, adding a tablespoon of water at a time as necessary to prevent scorching.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.

Add the lentils, vegetable broth, 1 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

Add the roasted vegetables to the pot and stir thoroughly to combine. Simmer, covered, for another 10 minutes or until the lentils are tender.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, if desired. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls.

Nutrition information: 383 calories, 21 g protein, 69 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 cholesterol, 18 g fiber, 740 mg sodium

Makes 4 servings.

From “Slim & Scrumptious” by Joy Bauer

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Griffin to Go: Grilling vegetables


Grilled zucchini picked fresh from the garden.

Grilled zucchini picked fresh from the garden.

I’m a dedicated meat-eater. I think pork is one of the four basic food groups (butter and heavy cream make up a second).

So it may seem odd that when I finally broke down and got a gas grill, the first thing I cooked on it was a batch of fresh pattypan squash from the farmers market.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have any meat on hand, mind you. I had just gotten the vegetables that day from the market, though, and they were so fresh and firm that they were practically crying out to be quartered, marinated and grilled.

You don’t need a fancy dressing with sugar and/or a host of spices. All I did was coated them well with some olive oil, salt and pepper for a few minutes before putting them on the grill.

I didn’t need anything else that meal, except a glass of rosé, as good a drink with grilled foods as a cold beer.

Those squashes remain among of the best dishes to come off my grill, and not just because they were first. I continue to grill them exactly the same way, which is quite frequent now that squashes are in season.

But don’t limit yourself to squashes or peppers. You can grill most any vegetable, including eggplant, if you approach it right.

Tom Perini, owner of Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, near Abilene, offers a great chart for grilled vegetables in his book, “Texas Cowboy Cooking,” which came out in 2000 and is still in print.

He doesn’t add anything to his Fire-Roasted Vegetables until they are finished cooking. All he does is cut some up and remove the seeds if needs be.

Yellow summer squash.

Yellow summer squash on the grill.

“This is a technique you can use with just about any vegetable,” he writes. “Grilling vegetables over a live fire awakens the sugars and brings the flavor of the vegetables to the surface, a flavor you don’t get in an oven. The color you get by grilling vegetables is spectacular: They look great with a little bit of char around the edges and there’s nothing prettier than grilled vegetables with your steak. Be careful not to cook them to much, they need to have a little firmness.”

That last sentence cannot be emphasized enough: Don’t let your attention stray from the vegetables. They cook quickly. Too much heat and you’ve got burnt mush.

Here are Tom’s suggestions for handling the vegetables and his time-table for cooking them to just the right doneness. He prefers coal, which does offer great added flavor, but I have found that gas works almost as well if you’re in a hurry or cooking for one:

Fire-Roasted Vegetables

Wash the vegetables. Use the chart below to determine proportions and cooking times. See that coals are red-hot and about 6 inches below the grill before starting to cook.

Peppers: bell, Anaheim, poblano, 8-10 minutes. Cut in half lengthwise and seed.
Peppers: jalapeños, 10 minutes. Leave whole.
Mushrooms, 8-10 minutes. Use whole caps with stems removed or trimmed.
Onions, sweet Texas, green and purple, 10-15 minutes. Slice crosswise into 1/2-inch slices.
Sweet potatoes, 8-10 minutes. Slice crosswise or diagonally into 1/2-inch slices.
Eggplant, 10 minutes. Slice crosswise or diagonally into 1/2-inch slices.

Dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine the dressing ingredients thoroughly. Toss the grilled vegetables in the dressing. This can be served at room temperature or chilled. Sliced beef may also be added.

From “Texas Cowboy Cooking” by Tom Perini

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