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Let’s Talk Food: Grilled eggplant

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Grilled eggplant.

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Couscous salad.

My son Neil sent me a link to NHK World Gatten Japan. It is an informative show about different subjects, often about things you would never think about, and this series was about eggplants. The Japanese have been eating eggplant for 1,000 years but it is thought that the first eggplant came from India and cultivated there and in China for more than 1,500 years.

As the world opened up, eggplant was introduced to Europe by the Arabs and then transported to Africa by the Persians. The Spaniards brought it to the New world and by the early 1800’s it found its way to America.

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In China, as part of her “bride price,” she must have at least 12 eggplant recipes prior to her wedding day. In Turkey, “imam bayeldi,” a tasty stuffed eggplant simmered in olive oil is “said to have made a religious leader swoon in ecstasy.” In Italy, when it was first introduced, they thought that anyone who ate the “mad apple” would surely go insane.

There are over 180 varieties of eggplant but the most popular ones are the American or round, long, medium long, extra long, water, red, egg, little egg and medium egg.

When we think of the different varieties, we immediately think of making eggplant Parmesan with the American or round; a Chinese Szechuan eggplant dish with the long, and adding the egg or small eggplants in Thai curries. So you can see how this vegetable has become such an important ingredient in different countries throughout the world.

The show Gatten was about how this bland vegetable can be brought to new heights just by grilling it, which is a popular method of cooking. I grew up eating grilled eggplant topped with katsuboshi and drizzled with soy sauce. We just cooked it whole over a flame, like on a gas stove until the skin turned black and the insides were soft. We then peeled the skin off.

Dr. Hideki Horie has been researching and studying Japanese produce for over 30 years and in his recent scientific paper, he heated eggplants under different conditions and finally found the exact moment the umami flavors jumped up. Grilling the eggplant is the method that really brings out the guanylic acid for optimum umami. This guanylic acid is the same ingredient in shiitake mushrooms, therefore eggplant, when grilled, can also be used to make “dashi” or broth. This is great for people who are allergic to mushrooms.

You can grill the long variety whole, but the round ones need to be cut up into 1/4-inch slices, drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled.

A simple grilled eggplant using items you already have in your pantry.

Grilled Eggplants

Serves 4

Cut in half lengthwise then into 3-inch long pieces:

1 pound Japanese long eggplants

In a large bowl, mix together:

1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing

1 inch knob fresh ginger, grated

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

Toss the eggplant in the marinade. Save the marinade for brushing after the eggplants are grilled. Heat the grill, and when hot, brush the grill with oil. Place the eggplant directly on the grill, grilling both sides for 3-5 minutes each.

After grilling, brush the eggplant with the additional marinade. Garnish with:

Toasted sesame seeds

Chopped cilantro leaves

• • •

Here’s a recipe for grilled American eggplants with a couscous salad topping.

Grilled Eggplant with Couscous Salad

Serves 4 for appetizers or 2 for main dish

Cook in pot of salted boiling water until al dente, 7-8 minutes:

1/2 cup dried Israeli couscous

Drain and transfer to a medium bowl. Add:

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, grated or pressed

1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus 1/2 teaspoon zest

3 tablespoon chopped dried apricots or Medjool dates

Heaping 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

3 tablespoons chopped or sliced almonds

Wash and cut:

2 medium round eggplants, sliced into 1/4 -inch thick rounds

Drizzle with:

Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Then sprinkle with:

Sea salt

Heat a grill to medium-high heat. Grill 2 to 3 minutes per side, until well-charred and tender.

Assemble the eggplant on a platter and top with the couscous salad. Garnish with:

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves.

Drizzle with:

Extra-virgin olive oil

Foodie Bites

Eggplants belong to the nightshade family of plants and although considered a vegetable, is technically a fruit as they grow from a flowering plant and contain seeds. One cup of raw eggplant is 20 calories, 5 grams carbs, 3 grams of dietary fiber, 10% of manganese, 5% of the RDI of folate, 5% of potassium, 4% of the vitamin K and 3% of vitamin C.

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Many people with rheumatoid arthritis do not eat eggplant or others in the nightshade family but in one study actually shows that potatoes, a member of the nightshade family, may lower inflammation.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.