Bringing eggplant’s foreign flair home
Appeal Staff Writer
Growing up in Ohio, I never even saw an eggplant, not to mention never had one served at the family dinner table. Corn ears, cabbage, beans and peas – that was the Ohio vegetable landscape.
It wasn’t until I was working in Italy that I came across the large, black plants. My spouse, German-born, hadn’t had them in her home either, so we at first ignored them.
However, my news bureau’s area coverage was not only Italy, but all around the Mediterranean, which included southern France, Turkey and Greece. There, eggplants (aubergine, berenjena, brinjal, garden egg, egg apple, patlican, melongene, melanzane) were common.
But it wasn’t until I was spending a news trip to Greece for the wedding of King Constantine that I tripped onto eggplant. I was staying at a small hotel in the Old Faleron district, away from anything touristy. The restaurant staff there had gotten to know me from earlier story swings and always treated me like a celebrity (I was probably the only foreigner to come to the district). Since the menu was in Greek, and my knowledge of Greek was limited to the alphabet I had learned for misguided fraternity days, I always just went into the kitchen and pointed at what I would like to try.
So one night I saw a sort of casserole which looked akin to lasagna, so I gave it a try. It, like almost everything the restaurant ever served me, was delicious – slices of eggplant in a lamb kind of sauce. I learned the name – moussaka. It has been one of my favorite dishes ever since. And thus my love story for the eggplant.
For the last couple of years I’ve planted eggplant in my small patio garden, and I’ve been rewarded with a profusion of eggplants, most the smaller Chinese variety. This year I tried an Italian eggplant in the Nevada Appeal’s Community Garden space.
As usual, I planted the tomatoes, eggplant and squash too close together. Now the squash has taken over most of the garden space, which is fine, since none of the planted seeds raised a single green bud. But one eggplant has survived and is about to surrender some mature eggplants.
Meanwhile, in my patio garden the eggplants are booming. Long, slender Chinese eggplants are hanging and already have appeared on the table in various Asian dishes. But now the single Italian eggplant is towering over everything, twice as high as the Asian versions. It’s a monster and quite overshadows the Zen garden below. Eggplants coming, but not ready for the table yet.
I look forward to trying the larger eggplants, skipping the salting process (slice the eggplant, sprinkle it with salt and let it stand in a colander for an hour), against their smaller companions.
In the past, I have found that the dark Chinese eggplant is less bitter and has a more delicate taste than the large American versions. No need to salt them.
The most common eggplant dish in America seems to be eggplant parmesan. This can be a tasty dish, but all too often the eggplant is reduced to a tasteless mush and topped with a scummy tomato sauce.
I’ve tried it at home a couple of times and found it less robust and tasty than Greek moussaka.
Actually, I found not too much difference in Greek and Turkish moussaka, with the Greeks making it a much more elaborate dish. (Sorry, guys, but I don’t want to pick favorites.)
I’ve always been leery of recipes with complexity of preparation and a wide reach of ingredients – it seems to me unlikely that the average peasant would have all these things and all this time.
So, my homemade moussaka is basic. I’ve adapted it over time to its current, rather sparse, format. Give it a try.
• Contact Sam Bauman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1236.
Bauman’s homemade moussaka
2 round eggplant or 4 Japanese oblong eggplant
2 T. olive oil
1 lb. lean ground lamb or 1Ú2 lamb and 1Ú2 ground round
1 can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
1 yellow onion [chopped]
1Ú4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1Ú4 cup parsley
1 clove crushed garlic
1Ú2 teaspoon chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large tomatoes
Parmesan or feta cheese
Cut the eggplant lengthwise, and scoop out most of the fleshy pulp and set aside. Salt the shells and set aside to make them sweat. Rinse off salt, gently squeeze and dry.
Fry the shells in a tablespoon of olive oil until browned, and drain on paper towels. In a tablespoon of olive oil, brown off meat, add chopped onion and peppers. Then add the rest of the ingredients and the diced up eggplant pulp.
Mix the ingredients together and fill the eggplant shells. Spread half of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a covered baking dish and place the filled eggplant shells on the sauce.
Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top of the stuffed shells. Pour the rest of the tomato sauce over the shells and sprinkle with parmesan or feta cheese. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven.