It was fun to hear from all of you who commented or emailed me about my most recent post. After all the praise for her beauty, the eggplant is turning diva on us. She disliked being pictured here with the other ingredients for ratatouille, but finally agreed.
Peggy Montano is a gifted painter with a lovely blog (click to see it). On my last post, she commented that she loves vegetables, except that she is less fond of eggplant (that purple diva was prominent in my photo last time, too) and wondered if a different recipe might change her mind. Peggy, it may be that the way eggplant is cooked would make little difference to you. But for what it's worth, here are a few ideas from my kitchen.
I suspect that Italian-style eggplant parmigiana is the most popular eggplant dish in the U.S. and may be the only form in which many people have eaten it. My method for considerable cuts in the fat and calories of this delicious meal is to pre-bake rather than saute the eggplant slices. Eggplant really drinks up oil when you saute it, and most parmigiana recipes call for sauteing it before making layers with the other ingredients and baking. Instead, I spray a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan (a flat 11" X 14" baking sheet with 1" high sides) with cooking spray (use olive oil flavored spray, if you have it), fit thick slices of eggplant onto the sheet and spray the top of the slices again. Then bake at 425 degrees (I convection bake it, but standard baking is fine), until it is lightly browned and a bit softened. Continue with the rest of the recipe. Your meal will be much less fattening and still really delicious.
I do the same thing to cut the calories and fat in making ratatouille. For anyone not familiar with this lovely dish, my venerable cookbook describes it as a vegetable mixture stewed in olive oil. Then, it proceeds to suggest that for 1 medium eggplant, 2 yellow summer squash, some chopped garlic, green pepper, and onion, you will use 1/2 cup of olive oil, first to saute all the vegetables and then to stew them together. I know olive oil is one of the good fats, but 1/2 cup!?! Next time, I'll provide my less oily adaptation of this versatile dish.
Three other tips for cooking eggplant, any or all of which will cut the slightly bitter taste: 1) Before cooking, with a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife, peel off strips of peel (the long way), leaving equal strips between the peeled "stripes", so that you serve only about 1/2 the peel. 2) If you have time, salt slices of eggplant and let them sit for 30 minutes, then rinse or wipe off and cook. Some of the bitterness "sweats out." 3) Sprinkle just a dash (1/8 tsp. or less) of sugar into the mixture when you cook eggplant (I do the same with cabbage, and other non-sweet vegetables)--just enough to cut the bitter edge, but too little to actually taste in your dish.
Question of the day: What tip can you share for making eggplant (or any other vegetable) appealing, even to reluctant vegetable eaters?