RECIPES Recipes help good preparation of eggplant

By J.M. Hirsch

Associated Press

Always on the lookout for new and imaginative ways to serve eggplant, I was struck by two recipes that recently landed on my desk -- one traditional but wonderfully simple, the other completely unexpected.

The reason for my search is simple. As appealing as eggplant is, it is particularly easy to prepare badly.

Part of the problem is the thirsty nature of eggplant. When sautéed,; eggplant will absorb as much oil as you give it, turning it into an oily mess if not cooked with care.


In its most common manifestation, eggplant Parmesan, it often is so overcooked it becomes limp or so overloaded with cheese or bland marinara that the taste of the vegetable is lost.

Through the years, I've collected some delicious examples of what eggplants can do. One favorite makes a sauce by sautéing; eggplant chunks with a fruit liqueur.

Another is a baked and breaded dish that is everything eggplant Parmesan ought to be, crunchy and slightly salty on the outside, but tender and moist on the inside.

The first recipe that recently caught my attention is panfried eggplant with crumbled feta, a favorite in Greek tavernas, from Diane Kochilas' "Meze."

This simple presentation briefly cooks eggplant slices until they are just tender, then tops them with feta cheese, freshly ground black pepper and paprika, before giving them a few minutes under the broiler.

"You don't even have to follow through on the last step, broiling the dish so that the cheese melts," Kochilas says. "Once the eggplants are softened in the skillet you can serve them, warm or at room temperature, with feta crumbled on top."

Also intriguing is Jill Gusman's arame-stuffed eggplants from her recent book, "Vegetables from the Sea."

This imaginative dish pairs the modest taste of baby eggplants with the assertive flavor of arame, a thin seaweed that looks like angel hair pasta.. (The convention now is to call seaweed sea vegetables).


Panfried eggplant

2 medium eggplants, cut into 1/4-inch rounds


1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) crumbled Greek feta

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Paprika, to taste

3 or 4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


Place the eggplant slices in a colander in layers, lightly salting each layer as you go. Place a plate or other weight on top and press down. Let the eggplants drain for 1 hour. Rinse them in the colander and pat dry very well.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Place the eggplant slices in the skillet in batches. Fry until lightly golden, then flip and repeat.

Preheat the broiler. Place the eggplant slices on an ovenproof platter, sprinkle with the feta, pepper and paprika and place under the broiler, about 8 inches from the heat source. Broil for a few minutes, or until feta begins to melt. To serve, sprinkle with parsley and serve hot. Makes 8 servings.

Arame-stuffed eggplants

1/2 cup pine nuts

6 baby eggplants, halved lengthwise, stalks left on

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium red onion, cut in 1/2-inch dice


1 1/2 cups cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped

4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup lightly packed arame, rinsed

2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Toast the pine nuts in a small, heavy skillet over a low flame, stirring constantly, until lightly golden, about 5 minutes.


Remove from the pan and set aside. Place the eggplant halves in a large skillet, cover with boiling water and cook over medium flame until just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Once the eggplant has cooled, use a teaspoon to scoop out the flesh, leaving the shells intact. Chop the eggplant flesh coarsely and reserve. Lightly oil a baking sheet and place the eggplant shells on it.

Heat the olive oil in the skillet for 15 seconds, then add the onion. Cook over a medium flame for several minutes until golden brown. Add the mushrooms, stirring frequently until moisture is released and they begin to brown.

Add the garlic and arame, mixing well, and continue cooking for 5 minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant and the arame well mixed in. Stir in the tomatoes, reserved eggplant meat, all but 1 tablespoon of the pine nuts and the parsley.

Cook for 2 minutes, then season with salt. Remove from the heat. Spoon the eggplant and arame mixture into the eggplant shells.

Garnish with the remaining pine nuts and bake for 10 minutes. To serve, garnish with parsley. Makes 4 servings (2 halves per serving).

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