Summer Veggin’: Eggplant

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“It’s a miracle.  The eggplant turned into a tomato plant!”

Several years ago my mother-in-law generously gave my husband some plants she had grown from seed to put into our garden. Most of the plants were tomato plants but she offered us one eggplant, because she knows that I like eggplant. My husband, however, does not care for it as much as I do, and he had actually at one point said that he would never grow eggplant in his garden. So, it was really a testament of his love for me that he accepted that plant from his mother and dutifully planted it in his precious garden.

Well… one day he came running into the house.  “Honey, even God doesn’t want me to grow eggplant.” He grinned and dragged me outside. “See, it’s a miracle. The eggplant turned into a tomato plant.”

Sure enough, what my mother-in-law had given us as an eggplant was actually another tomato plant. Obviously, there had simply been a mistake, but my husband still refers to that incident as divine providence affirming his dislike for eggplant.

And I’ve found that many people are like my husband and don’t care for eggplant very much, which I just don’t understand. Eggplant provides so many nutrients our bodies need and is an extremely versatile vegetable — one that can be roasted, stuffed, stewed, grilled, baked and stir-fried. They’re a great substitute for meat because they’re very filling without all the calories and fat and have a meaty texture. And they’re one of the few other vegetables which  provide those purples that round out rainbow eating.

Over the years, eggplant continues to be my husband’s least favorite vegetable, but he’s come to a place of recognizing their benefit — mostly that they’re much cheaper than meat — and acknowledging that the dishes I prepare can actually be tasty, even with eggplant.

Some Eggplant Suggestions which most people will like:

1. Make an eggplant parmesan instead of chicken parm. The eggplant has less calories and fat, but is just as filling, and with tomato sauce and cheese, I’ve served it to company with rave reviews. For a healthier version, I simply brush a little bit of olive oil on the eggplant and broil the eggplant on both sides for a few minutes until just beginning to become tender. I layer the eggplant with tomato sauce and a mixture of mozzarella and parmesan and fresh herbs until my pan is filled and then bake it in the oven at 375 for about thirty to forty minutes until the dish is bubbly and the eggplant is soft to cut. (When I make this allergy friendly so I can eat it, I use the vegan parmesan and mozzarella but I mix the cheeses with garlic, herb and onions and put it in the fridge overnight so the flavors can meld so the “cheeses” will taste more to everyone’s liking.)

2. Make an eggplant dip or spread. Roast a whole eggplant on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven for about an hour until it’s soft and the skin is splitting. Scrape out the eggplant from the skin and mash with some garlic, onions, herbs, and a little bit of olive oil. This is delicious as a dip for pita chips or spread onto little toasts and topped with a small crumbling of cheese.

3. Stir fry the eggplant. Some friends just gave me three nice sized eggplants which I peeled and sliced into one inch cubes. Then I stir fried the eggplant with some thinly sliced carrots and mushrooms in a little bit of sesame oil. Once the vegetables were beginning to soften, I added a sauce which thickened nicely and coated the vegetables: 1/2 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp avocado oil, 1 tsp mince garlic, 1 tsp minced ginger, 1/4 tsp soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon cornstarch – all mixed well.

4. Grill the eggplant. Slice eggplant lengthwise into long, fat pieces, keeping the peel on. Lightly brush the eggplant with olive oil and drizzle herbs, black pepper, and a small amount of salt on both sides. Grill a couple of minutes on both sides until the eggplant is tender. You can then drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar over the eggplant, and it’s a lovely side dish.

5. Stuff the eggplant. Stuffing vegetables is a wonderful way to use up leftovers in the house, and I think I’ll actually do a post on stuffed vegetables. For now, though, focusing on eggplant, you can use most anything you want — rice, meat, vegetables, bread crumbs, seafood, stuffing, cheese. To prepare the eggplant, cut it in half and brush the cut sides with a little bit of olive oil. Bake in a 375 degree oven on a cookie sheet cut side down for 15 minutes and then turn it over and bake for another 15 minutes until the eggplant is tender. Scoop out the insides and mix it in with whatever you’re using as stuffing. Stuff the eggplant and return it to the oven for another 30 minutes to fully heat the stuffing and eggplant together.

6. Add eggplant to your usual dishes. If you’re making a vegetable pizza at home, add some sauteed, chopped eggplant. If you’re throwing leftovers into a stew or soup, add chopped eggplant. If you like to make a fresh tomato sauce for pasta, add chopped eggplant to the recipe. In each of these the eggplant will lend a meatier texture and add flavor. The ideas are endless, and I encourage you to experiment.



Summer Veggin’: Kale

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“One’s the size of a grape; the other the size of a lemon. Good news is that none are the size of a grapefruit.”

Last week I had to have a biopsy. One of my children asked me what I was thinking as the doctor talked to me about my “very slight but we still have to check” possibility of cancer.

She laughed when I answered, “Honestly? I was wondering why doctors insist on using food for their size measurements. I love grapes and lemons, and now I’m not going to be able to look at them in the same way again!”

It may just be me, but wouldn’t quarters and golf or tennis balls suffice just as well? And while I’m already digressing:  Should anyone be given the choice of being awake or asleep during a biopsy, choose sleep, unless you are absolutely certain your doctor won’t insist on showing you what she has just removed! Because otherwise you might discover that you really will never eat another grape or lemon again.

Since my food choices are dwindling as the result of my experience, I decided it would be nice to do a post that might expand other people’s food options, and I’m opting to talk today about kale, one of my favorite summery foods.

For folks who might not be familiar with kale, it’s a cruciferous vegetable like cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli; and like those three, kale is very, very good for you. It’s has cholesterol lowering benefits, detoxifying properties, about 20 different needed nutrients, including omega 3’s, and is said to help reduce certain cancers.

I’ve found, though, that people don’t often know what to do with kale, so I’m going to share some thoughts with you.

1. Purchasing Kale:  When you buy kale from the store, look for them in fresh bunches in the produce section of the store. It’s cheaper that way! Stay away from bunches where the leaves look like they’re wilting, are beginning to yellow, or have many holes in them. Good kale will be a deep green with sturdy leaves.

2. Keeping Kale:  Do not wash kale until you are ready to use them. If you won’t be using them immediately upon purchase, put the bunch into a baggie which you can seal and put the kale into the fridge. I don’t often keep kale for longer than two to three days myself, but I’m told by others that kale will keep for a good five days or so in the fridge.

3. Freezing Kale: If I won’t be using kale within two days or so, I will freeze it. Best practices say to wash the kale, remove the leaves from the stems, blanch in boiling water for a minute or two, plunge into chilled water to stop the cooking, drain, dry and then put them into a freezer bag to freeze. I confess, I very rarely do that. I wash and dry my kale, chop the leaves off the stem into bite size pieces, stuff as much as I can into my freezer bag, seal it tightly without any air and freeze. I have not found much difference in the kale when I take it out of the freezer and pop it into a soup or casserole. The only thing blanching seems to do is slightly reduce the bitterness of kale, but I like that bitter taste. You can decide for yourself, though, whether I’m also just lazy.

4. Cooking with Kale: Kale is wonderfully versatile. You can use it in soups, casseroles, as chips, as a vegetable side dish, in stir frys, in omelets and anything else you’d normally use spinach for, in smoothies, and even in cakes! It’s moisture content keeps dishes from becoming dry and it’s slightly bitter tastes are a nice contrast to other herbs and seasonings and flavors in a dish.

Some things to keep in mind:

Always cut the kale leaves off the thick, woody stem. Those stems don’t taste very good.

Kale requires a bit of cooking time to soften so plan ahead that you’ll need to saute the kale for a good ten minutes or cook the soup a little bit longer.

Kale cooks down just like spinach so if you need a cup of cooked kale, you’ll need at least twice that amount of raw kale.

Keep kale handy in the freezer so you can simply add it to recipes without having to cook it to soften it first.

For easy chopping, after you’ve removed the leaves from the stem, just stack all the leaves on top of one another and slice.

5. Ideas for using Kale: We have several favorite ways of eating kale, but if you’re looking for a few easy ideas for getting started, here are three my kids really like:

One, is to make kale chips. Simply brush kale with a tiny bit of olive oil, sprinkle with the seasoning you prefer (salt, pepper, herbs, garlic or onion powder, grated parmeson, etc…), chop the leaves off the stems into bite size pieces, and bake in the oven on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for anywhere from five to 20 minutes, depending on the sizes and thickness of your pieces until the leaves are dry and crispy.

Another suggestion is to make a bean and kale saute. Saute your chopped kale in a little bit of olive oil with chopped garlic and onions until the leaves have started to wilt, mix in white cannellini beans and cook until both are soft and warmed through. Top with a small sprinkling of chopped turkey bacon or shredded cheese, if desired.

Make a frittata: Brown chopped potatoes in a little bit of olive oil with some salt and pepper. Add chopped kale when the potatoes have crisped to your liking. Once the kale is soft and wilted, beat up some egg whites mixed with a couple of whole eggs and pour the egg mixture carefully over the potatoes and kale. Add herbs of your choice. Cover the pan and slowly cook the frittata over low heat until the eggs have cooked through.