How I Learned to Love Eggplant
A writer and photographer becomes enamored of eggplant through her in-laws' recipes.
As a kid, I liked the looks of garden-grown eggplant with its deep purple jacket and little green cap, but I just didn't like eating cooked eggplant -- the seeds, the spongy texture, the ugly brown-beige look of it. Coming home from school to discover eggplant was on Mom's dinner menu, I'd plot how to get it off my plate without actually eating it. You know -- drop a few chunks into a napkin on my lap, push several pieces under the rim of my plate, feed a couple bites to the dog.
Grown and on my own, I avoided any contact with eggplant until I met my future husband. His Armenian and Greek heritage guaranteed the vegetable would be a staple on his parents' table. To my surprise, Todd's mother served dishes that took eggplant into unexpected territory. The best of these were appetizer dips: Grilled, the eggplant flesh took on a lovely smoky-flavor. Because my dislike for eggplant was largely textural, the discovery that eggplant could be pulsed into smooth and creamy dips made all the difference for me. Today, I have embraced eggplant dips and make them regularly for my own family. Best news? My sons eat them without trauma or tears. -- Monica Kass Rogers, 51, writer/photographer, Evanston, Ill.
Eggplants in Europe were grown largely as an ornamental garden plant until the 18th century, but the cousins to tomatoes, bell peppers, and potatoes offer so much more.
One cup of cooked eggplant has 35 calories and is a good source of potassium and fiber. Best of all, eggplant is rich in phenolic phytonutrients -- disease-fighting antioxidants, which research shows may help lower high blood sugars, blood pressure, and cholesterol when eaten as part of a high-fiber diet.
And because the chlorogenic acid (a type of phenolic phytonutrient) in eggplant is one of the most potent free-radical scavengers available in plant foods, eating eggplant helps protect cells and tissues from these harmful molecules.
Roast Eggplant Dip
Halve 2 medium eggplants. Brush with olive oil and grill, flipping with tongs until tender and charred on the outside, about 10 minutes. Wrap eggplants in foil and roast at 350ºF for 20 minutes. Cool. Scoop out flesh and discard skins and caps. Sauté 1 chopped onion, 2 cloves garlic, and 1 diced red pepper with 1 tsp olive oil until soft. In a blender or food processor, pulse onion mixture. Add eggplant flesh, 1 chopped tomato, 2 tbsp lemon juice, ½ tsp sea salt, pepper to taste, and 1 tbsp chopped mint or parsley. Pulse again until smooth, adding 2 tsp olive oil at the end. Serve topped with more snipped parsley and pepper, and with fresh veggies or toast for dipping.
Grilled Eggplant Dip
With a sharp knife, pierce 1 large eggplant all over. Microwave in a covered bowl 5 minutes. Transfer softened eggplant to a grill and cook 5 minutes on each side until charred. Cool. Discard skin and green stem cap. In a blender or food processor, pulse smoked eggplant flesh with ½ tsp salt, 1 garlic clove, ½ tsp ground cumin, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 4 tbsp tahini, and ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt until smooth. Chill. Spoon onto serving dish and drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika and freshly cracked pepper. Serve with pita triangles or fresh veggies.
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