Today, I was disappointed to find out that of one of my favorite vegetables, eggplant, is considered an ignored vegetable despite its richness in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In the United States, the eggplant is mostly consumed cooked as American-Italian Eggplant Parmesan. In other parts of the world, eggplants are making mouthwatering dishes. They are getting roasted over an open flame or in a hot oven, mashed, and mixed with other ingredients. That is why, I decided to bring back two eggplant dishes that I like cooking often and encourage you to eat eggplant in various ways because it is such a tasty and healthy vegetable. I meant fruit. Knowledge is knowing that an eggplant, just like a tomato, is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
In the Middle East, the mashed eggplants get mixed with a sesame paste to form a dip called bābā ghannūj that also appears as baba ghanoush. In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the eggplants are cooked in a style called baingan bharta (mashed eggplant) that bears a resemblance to baba ghanoush and contains onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and spices. In Turkey, the dish called hünkârbeğendi, or simply beğendi is an eggplant purée. (The name means that the sovereign/sultan liked it.) In Romania, the eggplant is found in many appetizers and main dishes.
There is no summer in Romania without Eggplant Salad. Some people like to eat it with or without mayonnaise mixed in. My mom did not use mayonnaise because the eggplants that were grown there were softer, had less seeds, a lighter green color and consistency when they were cooked. I use mayonnaise because the eggplants I found in the United States are not as tasteful as the ones I knew in Romania.
Eggplant Salad is actually a dip/paste
Step 1: I chose three medium size eggplants and baked them on a cookie sheet in the oven for about an hour turning them often while they were cooking. Make sure they don’t get burnt. Poke holes while you turn them to let the liquid inside drain and for the eggplants not to explode. It is a better idea to cook them outside directly on the barbecue flame if you don’t have a gas stove because the gas gives them a more smoked taste.
Step 2: Once they cooled down, peel the skin carefully by hand, place them in a colander and wait until all the liquid is drained. Next, lay them in a bowl.
Step 3: Mash the eggplants with a whisker and gradually add three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil until the eggplants become a paste.
Step 4: Mince a half of a medium size onion, add a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise, salt, a pinch of dried oregano, and mix with the eggplant mixture. I would not add too much mayonnaise because you would want to retain the taste of the eggplants.
Step 5: Place mixture in a bowl and arrange slices of tomatoes to decorate it. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes before serving. I like to eat it with fresh sliced bread, toast, or crackers. It makes a few servings depending on how large you want them to be.
My next dish doesn’t have a specific name. It seems to be close to baingan bharta. I call it simply “stew” because I am used to eating stews. It is considered a dish for the cold weather. I personally like to make it all year round because I love eggplant. This is a one – pot wonder meal that comes delicious no matter what. There are no mistakes to be made because the ingredients and their quantities can be adjusted according to taste.
When I cook Romanian style I don’t use a certain recipe. I just remember how my mom’s cooking tasted like and mix things using common sense. I also like meals cooked from scratch and use as many fresh ingredients as possible.
Step 1: I chopped up about four cloves (the little guys) of garlic and a medium size onion and placed them on separate plates. I used about four tablespoons of extra virgin oil that I heated in an 8 – quart stockpot and then I sautéed the onion at medium heat until it got golden.
Step 2: Next, I added the garlic and some dried parsley, basil, salt, and pepper just to cover the mixture evenly. I continued mixing them over medium heat. I like using fresh parsley. Unfortunately, I did not have it this time.
Step 3: When the garlic started to become yellowish I added one – 8 oz. can of drained mushrooms. I normally use fresh mushroom. The canned mushrooms did the job just fine. I sautéed them together at medium heat until they all turned brown.
Step 4: I added two medium eggplants that were cut in small cubes and sautéed them together with the other ingredients in the pot. You have to mix continuously because the eggplant may stick to the bottom of the pot. In this case, you may want to add a teaspoon of the same kind of oil.
Step 5: When the eggplants became soft, not exactly mush, I added two cans of tomatoes with okra and corn to the mixture (Margaret Holmes, 14.5 oz. each can). I cooked at a medium to slow temperature to allow the mixture in the pot to mix with the new ingredients I just added. With a large spoon I divided the tomatoes from the cans in small pieces.
Step 6: When all the vegetables were mixed well I added 16 oz. of tomato sauce.
You may add more spices in between steps if you want. I boiled everything at a medium temperature with the pot covered with a lid half way to allow the evaporation of the extra water coming from the vegetable juices. I continued to stir until the tomato sauce was well cooked into the mixture that became almost like a paste. Taste while you cook and make adjustments. The entire cooking time including cutting of the fresh vegetables took about an hour. This recipe should be good for six – eight servings. The combination of eggplant with mushroom is my favorite stew.
Step 7: Serve warm with:
- French toasted baguette (I am a bread eater.)
- Texas Toast Style garlic bread
- Boiled cubed red or yellow potatoes with some butter. I like to add fresh dill while they boil.
- Any kind of pasta. You may also add grated Parmesan cheese. I wouldn’t add a lot of cheese because you want to smell and taste the cooked eggplant.
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