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THE CALIFORNIA COOK

Downright voluptuous

Eggplant is underappreciated and misunderstood. But, hey, it's not bitter.

September 17, 2003|Russ Parsons | Times Staff Writer

1/4teaspoon red pepper flakes

Generous grinding black pepper

1. Remove the tough green calyxes and cut the eggplants into thirds or halves to fit in your steamer basket. Steam them over rapidly boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes. The perfect point of doneness is when a knife will slip easily into the eggplant, but it is not so cooked that the skin wrinkles (this is when the flesh begins to pull away from the skin).

2. Remove the eggplant from the heat and set aside until it's just cool enough to handle (the hotter the eggplant is at this point, the better it will absorb the dressing).

3. While the eggplant is cooling, whisk together the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, rosemary and red pepper flakes in a mixing bowl.

4. Cut the eggplant pieces in half lengthwise. If the bottom ends are very thick, cut these in quarters. Cut again to make 2-inch pieces and add them to the dressing. Toss well to combine and refrigerate until ready to serve.

5. To serve, add the black pepper, then taste the eggplant and adjust the seasoning.

Each serving: 200 calories; 1 gram protein; 10 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 18 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 780 mg. sodium.

*

Roast eggplant with walnuts

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Servings: 6

Note: This Turkish recipe is from Paula Wolfert's upcoming book, "The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen," which will be published in October by Wiley. Wolfert notes that the slower the grilling, the smokier the flavor of the eggplant. She thanks Dr. Ayse Baysal for sharing the recipe.

2 3/4pounds eggplants

1 green bell pepper

2 cloves garlic

1 cup (3 ounces) chopped walnuts, divided

1/2teaspoon salt

1 scant cup ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2tablespoons vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Pierce the eggplants with a sharp fork in two or three places (to keep them from exploding) and place them as high as you can on a V-rack roaster. Set over a medium-low gas flame or over hot coals and grill, turning about three times, 15 minutes to a side, or until completely soft and the skin is black and blistery, about 45 minutes total. The longer and slower the grilling, the creamier the eggplant will be. When the eggplants collapse, remove from the grill and let cool slightly. Remove the black parched skin, then squeeze gently to remove any juices. Discard the juices, and crush the pulp to a puree with a fork.

2. Meanwhile, grill the pepper. Remove the pepper when soft, cover with a sheet of plastic and allow to cool. Core, seed and slip off the skin. Chop fine and mix with the eggplant.

3. Mash the garlic to a paste with half the walnuts and the salt in a mortar and pestle or food processor. Add the cheese, oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper, and pulse to combine.

4. In a serving bowl, combine the garlic-walnut mixture with the eggplant-pepper pulp and mix well. Correct the seasoning. Mix the parsley and remaining walnuts and sprinkle on top. Serve with pita toasted until crisp. May be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for several days.

Note: When large eggplants are roasted whole, you may notice black juices seeping out of the skin. If this happens, immediately slit the eggplant on one side and drain on a slanted board in the sink..

Each serving: 303 calories; 10 grams protein; 18 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams fiber; 23 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 21 mg. cholesterol; 333 mg. sodium.

*

Eggplant stuffed with lamb and pine nuts

Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Servings: 6

Note: Silky stuffed eggplant is a wonderfully satisfying dish for casual late summer and early fall entertaining. It can be made in advance and reheated just before serving.

3 (about 1 pound each) round

dark purple eggplants

2 medium onions

1/4cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 ( 1/2-pound) lamb shoulder chops, or 3/4 pound lamb stew meat

3 1/3cups crushed tomatoes

1/4cup toasted pine nuts

1/2cup chopped parsley

1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the green calyxes off the eggplants. Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise. Using a sharp paring knife, cut a box in the center of each eggplant half, coming about half an inch from the sides and cutting down to within half an inch of the bottom. Using a large spoon, pry the center free. It should come out fairly cleanly, but use the spoon to scrape any excess eggplant from the inside of the box. Place the halves cut side down on a baking sheet lined with paper towel. Cover the excess eggplant flesh with plastic wrap and set aside. Repeat, cleaning all the eggplants.

2. Chop one of the onions and combine it with one-fourth cup of the olive oil in a large skillet. Place the skillet over medium-high heat and cook until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking an additional 3 minutes.

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