If you're stuck in a menu rut, think purple. The jewel-toned eggplant is often overlooked, but offers many possibilities.
Kids are drawn to this fruit (eggplant is technically not a vegetable), and it's in season right now, says Gila Daman RD, CDN. She's a dietitian at Jacobi Medical Center in New York City. "It's purple and glossy and pear-shaped, and that makes it sort of funky and exciting," she says. "We encourage families to increase variety and texture, and eggplant is a fun one to explore."
It's the central ingredient in baba ghanoush, a Middle Eastern purée that doubles as a kid-friendly dip for raw veggies. And eggplant is delicious after cooking a few minutes on the grill, making it a great summer option for meatless meals.
The purple color comes from a chemical that protects cells from damage, Daman says. Eggplant also has an antioxidant that may lower LDL (or "bad") cholesterol. A very good source of fiber, eggplant also delivers other important nutrients that support the immune system, help brain function, and promote blood clotting and healthy bones.
So brighten up your diet this summer with some purple eggplant. "As dietitians like to say, 'It's good to taste the rainbow,'" Daman says.
1. Take a Wok
If you're trying to get more veggies in your diet (and who isn't?), this stir-fry is a delicious way to do it. Red pepper flakes give it a little kick -- add more if you prefer more heat. Serve over brown rice.
Szechuan Eggplant Stir-Fry
Makes 4 servings
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp dry sherry
1 tbsp rice vinegar
⅓ cup low-sodium chicken stock
1 tbsp canola oil
1 yellow bell pepper, cut in 1-inch pieces
1½ lbs Japanese eggplant, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 large zucchini, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 large yellow squash, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh minced ginger
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
⅓ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup chopped, unsalted peanuts
4 green onions, sliced
1 tsp sesame oil
1. In small bowl, combine cornstarch with soy sauce, sherry, vinegar, and chicken stock. Set aside.
2. Heat canola oil in wok or large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper and cook 2–3 minutes. Add eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, garlic, and ginger and continue cooking, stirring frequently, 5–7 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Add cherry tomatoes, parsley, red pepper flakes, and soy sauce mixture and cook 1–2 minutes until sauce has thickened.
3. Serve garnished with peanuts, green onions, and sesame oil.
Per serving: 181 calories, 7 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 9 g total fat (1 g saturated fat), 9 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 289 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 45%
2. Recipe Redo
Traditional eggplant Parmesan can be greasy and rich. Roasting makes this version much lighter. Serve with a salad and crusty bread.
Light and Healthy Eggplant Parmesan
Makes 8 servings
2 lbs eggplant, cut crosswise in ¼-inch slices
6 cups jarred low-sodium marinara sauce, divided
3 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
½ tsp dried basil
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cupwhole wheat panko bread crumbs
1 tsp olive oil
1. Spray two rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray. Arrange eggplant slices in a single layer and spray lightly with more cooking spray. Roast at 400 F until lightly browned, about 10 minutes per side.
2. Reduce oven to 350 F. Lightly coat bottom of 9-by-13-inch baking dish with marinara sauce. Arrange eggplant slices in a single layer on sauce, followed by one-third of the mozzarella, and half the basil and sauce. Repeat layers of eggplant, mozzarella, and basil and sauce, and sprinkle remaining mozzarella on top.
3. In a small dish, combine Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, and olive oil. Sprinkle mixture evenly over dish. Bake 20–25 minutes until cheese melts and sauce bubbles.
3. Open Sesame
Grilling veggies boosts their flavors in this tasty spring sandwich. It features Japanese eggplant, a smaller variety that cooks faster than regular eggplant.
Open-Face Grilled Melanzane Sandwich
Makes 4 servings
1½ lbs Japanese eggplant, cut crosswise in ½-inch slices
2 red peppers, de-seeded and cut in quarters (may substitute bottled roasted bell peppers, drained)
2 large portobello mushrooms
1 red onion, cut into 4 slices
4 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 slices country wheat or ciabatta bread
2 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup (2 oz) goat cheese
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
dash sea salt freshly ground pepper
2 cups arugula
8 large basil leaves
1. Preheat grill to medium-high. Lightly brush eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, and onion with 2 tsp olive oil. Grill vegetables until tender, about 10–12 minutes, turning once. Cut grilled mushrooms and peppers in strips.
2. Spray bread lightly with cooking spray. Grill 1 minute on each side or until toasted. Cut garlic cloves in half, and rub cut edge on one side of each bread slice. On that same side, spread a thin layer of goat cheese.
3. In small bowl, combine 2 tsp oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Toss with arugula until lightly coated.
4. Top each piece of bread with greens, eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, onions, and 2 basil leaves and serve.
Per serving: 240 calories, 11 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate, 9 g total fat (3 g saturated fat), 6 mg cholesterol, 9 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 234 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 34%
For delicious results with our three eggplant recipes, Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, recommends these healthy ingredients, which she keeps in her own kitchen.
Devoted to the Goat: Zelman believes everything tastes better with a little bit of creamy, tangy goat cheese, also known as chèvre. Her favorite brands: Ile de France and Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Organic Fresh Goat Cheese.
Pleasing Cheese: There's no match for the flavor of fresh mozzarella, but shredded mozzarella sold at your supermarket is a reasonable alternative. Zelman uses Sargento Traditional Cut Shredded Mozzarella Cheese and Polly-O Part Skim Mozzarella Cheese.
Hit the Sauce: Jarred tomato sauce can't be beat for speedy suppers. Her favorites are Rao's Homemade Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce With Basil and Eden Organic Spaghetti Sauce, No Salt Added.
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