Yesterday some of our family members walked into the house with armfuls of beautiful, royal purple eggplants freshly picked from the garden. Each year when delicate purple blossoms give way to robust eggplants hanging from leafy stalks, I am in awe of having such a bold and mysterious fruit appear right in the backyard garden. Once in the kitchen, I have always delighted in finding ways to work this versatile, fleshy fruit into meals. This week I decided on a sophisticated Roasted Eggplant “Caviar,” with fresh seasonal herbs. No, it doesn't have fish in it, but this classic French caviar d’aubergine is perfect for entertaining at this time of year.
I must say, I adore eggplants for many reasons- for their rich, complex flavor, satisfying meaty texture, and the deep, stunning color of their skin. Commonly thought of as a starchy vegetable, eggplant is botanically classified as a berry with numerous small soft seeds forming delicate internal patterns. The original home of this plant was the tropics of Asia, however the name "eggplant" is from 18th century Europe where some of the cultivated varieties were yellow or white in color, much resembling goose or hen eggs. Eggplant contains carotenoids, folate, vitamin C, potassium, phosphorous and calcium, as well as beneficial fiber and a bit of protein.
The eggplant is part of the nightshade family of plants, meaning that the fruit itself contains alkaloid compounds that can be troublesome in high levels to people with sensitivities. Nightshades in general have been studied for their potential to exacerbate underlying inflammatory conditions such as digestive difficulty, joint pain and muscle aches.
Fruits and vegetables from this family, including tomatoes, potatoes and sweet/hot pepper varieties, should thus be consumed raw only in moderation. Cooking has been shown to reduce the alkaloid content of these plant foods by about 40-50%, which appears sufficient to offset difficulties in non-sensitive individuals. Remember- it’s all about listening to how a food makes your body feel and adjusting your intake accordingly. I for one, cannot deny the creamy deliciousness of eggplant during this season.
Roasted, mashed or sautéed, eggplant is not difficult to cook, however it takes a bit of careful preparation to do so properly. For larger varieties, removing the outer skin is helpful, as it can be very tough and chewy. The inner contains a bitter juice that is best neutralized by salting and draining slices before putting them to use in a recipe. Rinsing and drying the pieces well will prevent eggplant for absorbing too much oil and becoming unpleasantly soggy when mixed in with other things.
Roasted Eggplant "Caviar"
With a unique combination of flavors and textures this recipe adapted from Nourishing Traditions, tastes gourmet with little effort. I also stumbled upon the idea to serve wrapped in the fresh basil leaves instead of tossing the herbs right into the mix. While it may not be the most functional of serving methods, there is something undeniably classy about wrapping things up this way if you have the time. It also tastes delicious with the basil included and spooned onto homemade crackers or sweet potato flatbreads.
2 medium eggplants
1 Tbs. unrefined salt
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup soaked and sprouted pine nuts
1/2 cup parsley leaves, minced
1/4 cup basil leaves, minced
2 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs.-1/4 cup unfiltered olive oil
balsamic vinegar to taste (optional)
Using a fork, make several punctures along the skin of the eggplants. Place the entire fruit in the oven at 375° F for a little under an hour- just long enough until the skin becomes wrinkled and flesh tender. Remove and let cool. Peel the skin from the eggplant and discard (this should be easy if you cooked them long enough). Dice finely and toss with 1 tablespoon himalayan or sea salt. Place in collander and allow to drain for approximately one hour. Rinse with filtered water and then pat the pieces dry with a tea towel.
Separately, saute onions and garlic in ghee or cold pressed coconut oil. Remove from heat and combine with eggplant cubes. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice and parsley. Add sprouted pine nuts. Taste and drizzle with balsamic vinegar to your liking. Wrap small servings in fresh basil leaves for dainty hors d'oeuvres, or enjoy as a dip with bread or crackers.