Eggplant, sultans of summer

Turkish Orange eggplant

I’m growing Turkish orange, white and Japanese long purple eggplants this year and they are producing like crazy. They are beautiful additions to the garden, with their shiny bright fruits. But now what do I do with them?

Eggplants essentially take on any flavors you combine them with. Their creamy sweet flesh brings a lovely complement to summer meals. And they perform beautifully on the grill so you can keep the heat out of the kitchen. The smokiness from the grill enhances the flavor. 

white eggplant

Types of eggplants

Check out the farmers market for interesting varieties. The traditional Italian eggplant is a large dark purple orb, but there are many different types available, particularly at the market. Italian eggplants are generally larger and round or oblong, in shades of purple, white and striped. Asian eggplants are long and slender and come in purple, white, pale purple and pink. And of course, there is my orange eggplant. 

Italian purple eggplant

Harvest carefully

Eggplants are fairly delicate so need to be harvested carefully. They have spines on the stems, so take a pair of clippers with you. When harvesting or choosing from the farmers market, select eggplants with shiny, smooth skin. The more they lose their shine, the more bitter they become. Some cooks recommend slicing, salting and letting them sit for a half hour to remove some bitterness, but I’ve found this unnecessary. They sweeten elegantly when they cook. 

Asian eggplant

Grill ’em

For the simplest preparation of the large eggplants, simply put the whole fruit on the grill and roll it around until the skin is beautifully charred. This may take an hour – it should be soft and shrunken. Let it cool and peel off the skin. Then you can mash the pulp for baba ganoush or caponata. 

Grilled baby eggplant

Smaller eggplants also perform well on the grill. Put the whole eggplants on a medium-hot grill and close the lid. Turn a few times and remove them to a plate to cool. Once they are cool, slice carefully and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They pair especially well with the flavor of thyme and feta. Serve as a side to grilled meats or a large fresh salad. 

Farmers market strata

Eggplant is a natural companion to tomatoes and summer squash or zucchini, especially since everything is coming in at the same time. Throw together a layered strata with mozzarella and you have a beautiful main dish. Roast the vegetables first for an especially delicious take. Pair it with crusty Italian bread and a fresh salad for a wonderful summer meal. 

Farmers market strata

Eggplants also freeze quite well when cooked although the flesh will not be firm when defrosted. Slice them in half, roast cut side down at 375 for 15-20 minutes depending on the size. Scoop out the flesh and freeze in freezer bags. When thawed, add breadcrumbs, garlic, feta and other seasonings to your taste for a delicious quick dip for fresh vegetables or pita chips.  

Eggplant dip

Eggplant dip (Baba ganoush)

1 medium eggplant

½ medium onion, diced

1 large clove garlic, diced

1 medium red bell pepper

½ c. toasted bread crumbs

¼ c. tahini

¼ t. cumin

1 large tomato, diced

1 T. vinegar

Salt to taste

Cut eggplant in half and roast cut side down on an oiled cookie sheet at 375 about half an hour until soft. Cut the pepper in half and discard seeds and membranes. Flatten with your palm so there is more surface exposed. Roast about half an hour until the skin blackens. Scoop into a bowl and cover with a plate to let the peppers steam further. When cool, remove the peppers and peel off the skin. Scoop out the pulp and discard the skins. 

Saute onion and garlic in 2 T. olive oil until soft. Either puree the vegetables in a food processor until smooth or simply mix and leave chunky. 

Stir in rest of ingredients, salt to taste and serve at room temperature with pita chips. 

Eggplant salad

Peel and cube a large eggplant. Toss the cubes with olive oil and roast in a 375-degree oven for about half an hour, until tender. Remove from oven and toss while warm with a vinaigrette of your choice. Refrigerate two hours. When ready to serve, toss with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers. Add crumbled feta, chopped fresh basil and more dressing if necessary. 

Grilling

The summer is heating up and with the holiday weekend upon us, barbecuing is on everyone’s mind. This is a prime time to heat up the grill instead of the kitchen. 

I used to think of the grill as the place where you cooked ribs, chops and chicken breasts. However, I now use it for all types of vegetables, mushrooms and bread and I’m hooked. 

Gas or charcoal

You can use a gas or charcoal grill but it just takes a little more planning to get the coals ready. I’ve managed to pick up a few grilling baskets and trays at second-hand stores although you also buy new ones from garden and hardware stores. Whatever utensils or cookware you use, make sure it’s not your best because it will show wear from the grill. I have set aside a couple of older cast iron pans for use on the grill and I love how they cook outside almost as much as inside. 

Grilled baby eggplant

Grill almost any vegetable

A visit to the farmers market or my garden brings in tomatoes, summer squash, spring onions, early carrots, fresh garlic, maybe some late asparagus, bok choi, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and a myriad of other good eats.

All of which can be simply grilled. The essence of grilling is to use high-quality oil to help the vegetables caramelize. My go-to is fruity olive oil, but you can use grapeseed, walnut or even toasted sesame oil for a slightly Asian taste. 

Garnish with herbs after grilling

Fresh herbs lose their flavor quickly when grilled, so if using them, chop and add them after the vegetables come off the grill. I also wait to salt vegetables until they come off the grill, while they are still warm so the salt dissolves, but not while on the grill which tends to make it necessary to use more salt. 

Marinate or not

You can marinate the vegetables before cooking if you choose, but since vegetables don’t soak up oil and vinegar as meats do, it really isn’t necessary. You can toss them with whatever you like after they come off the grill for delicious flavors. 

Vegetables don’t take long to cook, so cook any meats or other main courses first. 

Grilled pac choi

How to grill

Heat the grill to high and then turn it back to medium. Oil your pan (cooking spray works fine), and then add the vegetables. Some that are tougher, like carrots or beets, should be steamed or blanched briefly in boiling water to start the cooking process. Don’t cook until they are soft, though or they won’t hold up on the grill. Toss the vegetables frequently while they cook so all sides get equally caramelized. 

Asparagus

Trim off tough ends, roll in olive oil and grill on a flat grill pan for around ten minutes, shaking the pan part-way through or using tongs to roll them around. Serve with a yogurt or mustard sauce.

Carrots
Grilled baby carrots

Steam or blanch about 2 minutes and then dress with olive oil. Grill in a basket about ten minutes until easily pierced with a fork. Toss with fresh mint and maple syrup if desired or simply dressed with salt. 

Cabbage and cauliflower

Cut into “steaks”, drizzle with oil and cook on a grill tray until it is just crisp-tender. Sprinkle with garlic powder and drizzle with balsamic vinegar to serve. 

Broccoli

Cut into small florets, toss with oil and toss in a grill basket about ten minutes. Toss with fresh parmesan, a fresh squeeze of lemon and lots of fresh ground pepper to serve. 

Summer squash, zucchini, pattypans
Grilled zucchini

Cut into ½” thick coins and toss with garlic powder and oil. Toss in a grill basket about 10-15 minutes until crisp-tender. A sauce made with Dijon mustard and yogurt is delicious drizzled over the top. 

Potatoes

Blanch new potatoes (red or gold) until slightly tender. Slice in half, toss with a bit of olive oil and grill for about 10 minutes. Toss with a warm vinaigrette for grilled potato salad.

Grilling mixes, rubs and marinades

Use these as a dry rub on meat, fish or vegetables: brush with olive oil and sprinkle with grilling mix. 

Or, add a tablespoon to ¼ cup olive oil and ¼ cup vinegar of choice for a marinade. Brush vegetables or meats with leftover marinade as you grill. If you marinate meat, be sure to discard any extra marinade that you don’t use in cooking. It can harbor bacteria. 

Basic Grilling Mix

1 T. oregano

1 T. basil

1 t. garlic powder

1 t. thyme

For specialty mixes – start with the basic grilling mix and add the ingredients listed:

Mint Herb Mixuse on potatoes, lamb or fish

1 T. mint

1 T. marjoram

1 T. tarragon

1 t. lemon balm

Italian Herb MixUse for pizza on the grill, on grilled potatoes for potato salad, on chicken breasts

1 t. rosemary 

1 t. chili flakes

Herbed Ranch MixUse on salmon or white fish, grilled potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash

1 T. dill 

1 T. ground black pepper

Traditional barbecuedelicious on vegetables and potatoes

1 t. sage

½ t. ground chili (or to taste)

1 T. paprika

1 t. rosemary

1 t. black pepper