Food: Dispelling eggplant myths
THE KITCHEN DIVA
EGGPLANT FRENCH FRIES
2 medium to large eggplants, peeled
1 tablespoon salt (for salting eggplant to extract liquids), plus 1/2 teaspoon salt for seasoning
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 cup flour
3 teaspoons Ranch Salad Dressing & Seasoning Mix
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded, optional
1. Slice the eggplant into 3/4-inch sticks, about 4 inches long. Use 1 tablespoon of salt on both sides of the eggplant sticks and place them on paper towels to drain for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.
2. In a medium bowl, mix milk, eggs, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until well-blended. Combine flour and dressing mix in a wide, shallow bowl. In another wide, shallow bowl, combine the Panko bread crumbs, 1/8 teaspoon salt, the remaining 1 teaspoon pepper and the 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
3. Heat oil in frying pan on high heat. Dip eggplant sticks into egg mixture and then flour mix, and then in the Panko breadcrumbs. Place in oil, flipping regularly, and fry 3 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Sometimes a food becomes so associated with a particular cuisine that it develops an identity problem. While it’s true that some fruits and vegetables are mainstays of certain cultures, many foods call multiple places home and are used in dishes that span the globe. Eggplant has a strong connection to the sustenance of Italy and has been a celebrated part of its cuisine and a subject of myths for centuries.
A starting point in dispelling the myths is that eggplant is not native to Italy or the Mediterranean, but to India. It also has been part of the African diet for hundreds of years. One relative of the eggplant we know is a variety grown there called Garden Eggs, which produces a small white fruit that looks very much like eggs, hence the name. Also surprising, the leading producer and consumer of eggplant today is China.
Yet another misconception about this wonderful vegetable is that it is really a fruit. Eggplant actually is a member of the nightshade family. Foods from this plant family contain substances called alkaloids. Alkaloids have been known to have adverse effects on the digestive tract. But alkaloid content in nightshade plants, which include potatoes, tomatoes and sweet and hot peppers, is extremely low. It probably contributed, though, to concerns long ago about whether the eggplant should be eaten at all.
The eggplant has the same health benefits found in all nightshade plants, which are antioxidant compounds. Studies now suggest that these compounds might aid in reducing blood cholesterol. Eggplant also is low in calories, and is an excellent source of potassium and fiber.
When we think of eggplant, we may think of it breaded, fried and topped with Parmesan cheese and tomato sauce. But eggplant is not a one-dish wonder; it has a repertoire that highlights a myriad of flavors and preparations.
In the end, eggplant is a delicious food that when properly cooked has a mild flavor and creamy texture, with noted nutritional perks. Eggplant is so wonderful that it easily can be the star of a dish. While you may occasionally get a bitter eggplant, smart shopping and the right cooking techniques will guard against that.
Choose small and firm fruit when buying eggplant to ensure against bitterness. Many varieties have an inherent mild sweetness, such as the Japanese and white Rosa Bianca.
Another method to combat any bitterness is to salt it 30 minutes before cooking to extract any liquid and then rinsing off the excess salt. If you’re using eggplant in a baked recipe, you may not need to salt or rinse as any excess liquid will evaporate in the oven. This recipe for Eggplant French Fries puts a unique twist on this delicious vegetable and makes a healthier substitute for traditional French fries.
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is http://www.divapro.com. To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook and go to Hulu.com. Read Gina Harlow’s blog about food and gardening at http://www.peachesandprosciutto.com. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.
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