Monday, June 14, 2010

Hooray for Veggies!

One of the things I remember most fondly about my mother's kitchen is that us kids always tried at least one bite of something new. That thing where kids wrinkle up their faces and say "I don't like that!" when you know full well they've never tasted it before? There was no getting away with that, with my mom.

For example, let's talk about eggplant. (You'll also sometimes see it called aubergine, melongene or brinjal, depending on where in the great big world you're located.)

Now, eggplant is a gorgeous creation, plump and purple and slightly alien-looking, with a flavor that's delicately reminiscent of fried green tomatoes but sweeter. I love eggplant. I love it grilled, baked, on pizza, tossed in pasta, roasted, or in salads. I love eggplant.

That said, if you're feeding someone suspicious of hitherto unexperienced fruits and vegetables, here's a sure-fire way to get 'em to eat eggplant and ask for more.

To begin with, pick out a lovely specimen; the skin should readily indent under the pressure of a fingernail and retain the mark. Eggplant is primarily fresh locally in the late summer and fall in more northern climates, but you can usually find eggplant from southern California or Mexico most of the year.

This is fast and dead-easy. First, whip up a little seasoned flour. I usually take a couple of cups of flour, add some lemon pepper, seasoned salt, garlic and onion powder, and a healthy dash or three of cayenne pepper (you could use something like smoked paprika, though, and that would be yummy, too.) How much of each, you ask? I have no real idea, honestly, a couple of healthy tablespoons of everything but the salt. I'm in my forties, now, so I'm making a concerted effort to cut down on how much salt I eat; hence, the lemon pepper and cayenne. Save this recipe. I use it to cook almost anything I'm even a little suspicious of, and most meats. If it's edible, it's gonna be yummier chicken-fried.

Mix it all up in a bowl (I usually just use my fingers, but if you're fussy or don't feel like washing your hands, a fork works just fine, too.) Here's the thing that takes a little experience, though: You need to taste it, to judge the level of salt and spices. You don't have to taste a lot, because, hello...dry flour. But you can simply lick the light coating of seasoned flour from the tines of your fork. If it just tastes bland and floury, add some more seasoning.

Next, beat a couple of eggs in a bowl and add a big splash of milk. Maybe a quarter of a cup. If it's a really big eggplant and you're planning to cook the whole thing, use another egg or two.

Wash your lovely purple eggplant, peel it, and chop it into one-inch cubes or thereabout. You don't actually have to peel it, but you might want to acclimate your picky eater to the idea of eggplant before asking them to eat something that nature serves inside a deep purple skin. All washed and peeled now? Great! Toss the cubes in the bowl of eggy-milk, making sure they're thoroughly wet but not gunky. Then toss the cubes of eggplant in the seasoned flour, just lightly coating them.

Take your favorite cast iron skillet and put about a quarter of an inch of olive oil in the bottom, over medium to medium-high heat. You don't want the oil to smoke, but it should be hot enough to sizzle up if you flick dry a little flour off your fingertips into the hot oil. When your oil is hot enough, lay your pieces of eggplant into the oil. Give them a few moments to brown, then turn them and let the other side brown thoroughly. Leave enough space between the pieces of eggplant for them to brown thoroughly. If you think you need to brown the sides a little bit, go for it.

The succulent little cubes should feel quite tender when you spear 'em with fork tines to turn over, in spite of the toothsome and alluring crunch of the breading. Yep. You've just made chicken-fried eggplant.

Yay for you! Drain on a couple of layers of clean paper towels on a plate, and serve hot. Or serve warm. Or eat 'em cold out of the fridge the next morning when you're rummaging for milk to put in your coffee. I'm still not sure how I like 'em best. I do recommend not letting anyone dip them in ketchup...but if you're feeding little kids and that's how they want to do it, then hey. There are worse culinary sins.

Shall we pretend this was healthy? We shall not. Although eggplant is awfully healthy and even the olive oil is good for you, it's still basically chicken-fried. If you're curious about how healthy eggplant really is, the nutritional breakdown looks like this:

Nutritional Values
Serving Size
Fiber (g)
Fat (g)
Energy (kj)
Eggplant - raw
Baby Eggplant
4 (65g)
Eggplant - grilled
3 slices (90g)
Eggplant - fried


Mac's Mom said...

Sounds Yummy! Is yummy. I'd forgotten about eggplant (because chicken fried is off my menu since I'm getting older, but gftrilled is nice, too.

Marguerite Butler said...

I'm going to try this one. Yum. I've got a great eggplant casserole recipe. It's my favorite way to cook it.

Mac said...

Well SHARE it, woman! I'll link it up, if you want to post it over on your own blog, or promote the comment, if you'd rather post it here. :) Did I mention loving eggplant in any of it's incarnations?

Lisa said...

I want the eggplant casserole recipe, now please.

Holler if you want help with HTML Ms. Butler ma'am, and I'll link to it too.

Marguerite Butler said...

I'll be posting it tonight. :)

Haggis said...

Any of you eggplant freaks ever try purging your eggplant before cooking it? Layer it with kosher salt, stick it on a cookie rack and let the liquid drain out of it. Wash the salt off, squeeze the eggplant dry and then cook. It's something special when you have the time to do it. I'm usually too hungry for the eggplant.

Mac said...

I've never even heard of that - but now you've got me curious. I'd never thought to cook it in milk, either, like Soccer Mom's recipe -- but I'm darn sure gonna try that one, too!