We have now entered August, which, not so coincidentally, is the prime month to buy, cook and eat eggplants. These purple beauties are actually nightshades — a category of vegetable that also includes potatoes and tomatoes. And they are rich in nasunin, which is an antioxidant that works to protect your brain cell membranes. Me? I like to just say they’re brain food. Just remember to leave the peel on, that’s where a lot of the vitamins are located. Plus, with its deep purple hue, it’s just too pretty to take off.
With its spongy texture, eggplant is also an incredibly versatile ingredient. It has a mild flavor, making it great for showcasing other, more flavorful ingredients (garlic or basil, for example). And, with that unique texture, eggplant is a wonderful substitute into any meat dish — try making burgers out of thick eggplant slices, or eggplant Parmesan instead of chicken. This is a great option for vegetarians, but is also heart healthy and easier on the wallet than meat. There’s no better way to mix up dinnertime, than this quick and easy substitute.
The most important thing to remember when cooking eggplant is to “sweat” them first. I like to do this by slicing it however I plan on using it, whether it would be rounds, cubes, diagonals. Then lay the slices in a baking dish and sprinkle them with salt. Then just leave the dish in your refrigerator for about half an hour and rinse. This sweating process helps with cooking your eggplant, preventing it from absorbing too much oil and getting greasy. It also decreases the acidity of the plant for easier digestion. Now, to truly ring in the month of August — let’s take it to the grill!
1 eggplant, cut lengthwise into thin slices; olive oil; salt; 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved; 1⁄4 cup pine nuts; 1⁄4 cup feta cheese; pinch red pepper flakes; 1⁄4 cup fresh basil leaves (or dried if you don’t have any fresh) torn. Now, preheat your grill to medium-high (if you don’t have access to a grill, your oven will work as well). Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil. Grill for about 4 minutes on each side — they should be tender. Next, mix the tomatoes, nuts, feta, red pepper flakes and a little more olive oil. Season with salt. Spoon this mixture over your grilled eggplant and serve with the basil sprinkled over top.
Sage Hahn is an intern at the Shafeek Nader Trust and Fit Together. She will be writing Veggie of the Week columns for The Winsted Journal for the rest of the summer.