Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Baked Lemony Eggplant With Tomatoes

I'll be honest-- eggplant and I haven't always been the best of friends. As a kid, it was one of the few vegetables I dreaded, but I think that was more because of the thick layer of undercooked flour soaked in grease that often accompanied it in our house than disliking the actual vegetable. When I got older, I discovered many wonderful foods of the Mediterranean, including some tastier renditions of eggplant, but still didn't ever really seek it out. It wasn't until I was regularly cooking for others outside my family that I braved this seemingly-difficult, purple globe. Once I learned how to get the best out of it, it was so worth it. Keep an eye out at farmer's markets for some wonderful heirloom varieties.

I'm not sure what the variety of this heirloom eggplant is, as it came in our CSA box, but I love that it looks like a deep purple pumpkin. It was definitely more of a treat than a trick.

Of course, I could bread and fry it then smother it with tomato sauce and cheese, but that doesn't exactly fit the bill of a light, healthy dinner. And what kind of challenge is that? I could do the same to a flip flop and it'd probably taste just as good. I'd rather leave the fried stuff behind and explore the beauty of the eggplant itself.

Eggplant and lemon are best buds. They play well with each other. Add some tomatoes and fresh herbs and you won't even miss its fried counterpart. Don't skip the salting & draining process. This pulls moisture out of the eggplant, carrying with it any bitterness. It also helps to avoid mushiness.

I served this batch over whole wheat & vegetable spaghetti that was dressed in a tomato basil sauce, but it would also work beautifully over well-seasoned quinoa, couscous or the like. I also gave it a sprinkle of parmesan cheese before devouring. The sweetness of the vegetables was a nice contrast to the brightness of the lemon, and the soft, silky texture was really wonderful with the al dente pasta.

Baked, Lemony Eggplant With Fresh Tomatoes (serves 4)
  • 1 large eggplant, cut vertically into 1/4" slices
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • extra virgin olive oil (preferably in a mister)
  • 5 cloves garlic (sliced or left whole & lightly crushed)
  • fresh oregano, leaves only
  • fresh basil leaves, torn
  • salt & pepper
1) Lay eggplant slices onto a rack over a pan to catch the juices and salt both sides liberally

2) Allow to drain approx. 45 minutes, flipping once halfway through
3) Preheat oven to 400 F
4) Once drained, gently press each slice onto a clean, dry towel to remove any remaining pooled liquid
5) Spray a large baking dish with olive oil and place the first layer of eggplant down and spray tops with olive oil
6) Sprinkle liberally with lemon juice, chopped tomato, herbs, pepper and a couple garlic cloves

7) Stagger any remaining slices, spray with oil and add the rest of the lemon juice, tomato, herbs, garlic and pepper
8) Bake covered for approx. 20 minutes, or until the eggplant is soft and pliable but not mushy


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