Grilling Eggplant

Quick: Is eggplant a vegetable or fruit? If you guessed fruit, go to the head of your cooking class!

On The Early Show Thursday, resident chef Bobby Flay shared lots of info on eggplant, along with great recipes for the grill.

He says eggplant is great prepared that way, and very versatile.

But, he adds, most people really don't know how to prepare it.

Eggplant has long been prized for its deep purple color and unique taste and texture. You can now buy them year-round, but this is the beginning of its peak season, which lasts until October.

Eggplant grows much like tomatoes, hanging from the vines of a plant that grows several feet high. While different types of eggplant vary slightly in taste and texture, they can all be generally described as having a pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture.

Eggplant is never eaten raw, but can be baked, sautéed or grilled.

The best eggplants are firm and shiny, with unbroken skin. Male eggplants tend to have fewer seeds, and so are less bitter than female eggplants.

To figure out the sex of an eggplant, look at the indentation at the bottom. If it's deep and shaped like a dash, it's a female. If it's shallow and round, it's a male.

Purchasing eggplants: Smaller, immature eggplants are best. Full-size puffy ones may have hard seeds and can be bitter. Choose a firm, smooth-skinned eggplant that's heavy for its size; avoid those with soft or brown spots. Gently push with your thumb or forefinger. If the flesh gives slightly but then bounces back, it's ripe. If the indentation remains, it's over-ripe, and the insides will be mushy. If there's no give, the eggplant was picked too early. Also, make sure an eggplant isn't dry inside; knock on it with your knuckles. If you hear a hollow sound, don't buy it. Smaller eggplants also tend to be less bitter.

Storing eggplants: Eggplants are very perishable and become bitter with age. They should be stored in a cool, dry place and used within a day or two of purchase. To store in the refrigerator, place in a plastic bag. If you plan to cook it the same day you buy it, leave it out at room temperature. Freshness is important, so don't store them for very long.

Preparing eggplants: When young, the skin of most eggplants is edible; older eggplants should be peeled. Since the flesh discolors rapidly, an eggplant should be cut just before using.

There are many varieties, ranging from dark purple to pale mauve, and from yellow to white. The longer, purple variety is the one that's most commonly eaten. It's one of the more popular vegetables in the world, and a cooking staple throughout Italy. For hundreds of years, it was grown only in Sicily and southern Italy, but now, there are varieties throughout the world.

RECIPES

Grilled Eggplant and Chickpea Salad


Serves 4

3 Japanese eggplants, cut lengthwise
1/4 cup canola oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and drained again
1 red pepper, grilled, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, grilled, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
15 Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
8 ounces feta, crumbled

1.Heat the grill to high.
2. Brush the eggplant with the canola oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side or until lightly golden brown and slightly charred. Remove from the grill and cut each half into half-inch-thick slices.
3. Place the eggplant, chickpeas, red and yellow peppers, onion and olives in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, chile flakes, mint and cilantro and stir to combine. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving or cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving. Can be served cold or at room temperature.

Grilled Eggplant with Fresh Ricotta & Grilled Tomato-Basil Relish

Serves 4

16 ounces fresh sheep's milk ricotta
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe Perfectly Grilled Eggplant (see above!)
1 recipe Grilled Tomato Relish (see below)

1. Stir together the ricotta and parsley in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper.
2. Place the grilled eggplant on a large platter and top each slice with a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta and a heaping tablespoon of the tomato-basil relish.

Grilled Tomato-Basil Relish

Yields 2 cups

8 ripe plum tomatoes
5 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 cloves finely chopped fresh garlic
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

1. Heat your grill to high.
2. Place the tomatoes in a bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Place tomatoes on the grill and grill until charred on all sides, and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the grill and coarsely chop. Put the chopped tomatoes in a bowl, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, onion, garlic, vinegar and basil and gently mix until combined. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Can be made 4 hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Spicy Hoisin Glazed Eggplant

Serves 4

1 tablespoon canola oil
1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
2 medium eggplants, ends trimmed and cut into ½-inch thick slices
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 green onions, white and green part, thinly sliced

1. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic and red chile flakes and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the hoisin, vinegar and soy sauce until combined.
2. Heat your grill to high.
3. Brush eggplant slices on both sides with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the slices on the grill and grill until golden brown and slightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes. Brush with some of the glaze, turn over and continue grilling just until cooked through, brushing with more of the glaze, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Remove from the grill and brush with the remaining glaze. Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with the green onion.
  • Brian Dakss

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