E is for Eggplant

eggplant

Research suggests that one legal way a family can reduce its carbon footprint is by getting rid of the dog. For me this seems a very large sacrifice as Tilly is a very cherished companion. So in a bid to keep the dog, and still have a conscience about the environment, I have been looking for beef replacers. Ingredients that I can substitute into meals normally requiring methane-producing beef.

Eggplant is an excellent option as the spongy texture of the vegetable soaks up flavours and allows you to coat it in whatever sauce you want.  Anyone who has tried eggplant moussaka, eggplant curry or eggplant parmagana will agree when with me that the versatility of this vegetable is only limited by your imagination.

Research into eggplant has also shown the presence of nasunin in the skin of the eggplant. Nasunin works to protect cell membranes from damage. In brain cell membranes this is especially important as strong cell membranes make us more capable of  receiving signals from messenger molecules.

Eggplant from an environmental perspective is difficult as 83% is farmed in India and China in monocrops and the vegetables tend to have a large quantity of pesticide residue.

As with most vegetables in today’s market searching for locally grown food to cut down on our carbon footprint and organic alternates is important.  Or, better yet, why not try growing this attractive vegetable at home?

Eggplants are best during Autumn. Look for eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size with vivid colour. Store the eggplants for 2-3 days in a vegetable crisper. Be careful with the skin as the eggplant will spoil if the skin is broken and can bruise easily.

For my eggplant recipe I have chosen a greek dish. This tomatoe and eggplant stew is best when served with bread,  rice or pasta. I added capsicum and zucchini as I had some I needed to use and this versatility is one of the reasons I adore this simple dish.

GREEK EGGPLANT STEW
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 1-1/4 pounds japanese eggplants or 1 italian eggplant, unpeeled
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, (28-ounces) drained, juice reserved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, preferably italian, optional.

METHOD

Cut eggplant into 3/4- or 1-inch dice. Heat oil in heavy Dutch oven or large casserole. Add onion and sauté over medium heat 2 minutes. Stir in garlic. Add eggplant, salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, over low heat until eggplant is coated with onion mixture. Add tomatoes, 1/3 cup juice from tomatoes, bay leaf and oregano and cook over high heat, stirring, until bubbling. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, until eggplant is tender, about 20 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve hot or cold, sprinkled with parsley.

D is for…Dates.

dates

Dates, dates, the musical fruit. The more you eat the more you… Well, let’s hope it’s not strictly true. Dates are healthy. When researching for this article I was genuinely amazed at the sheer variety of health benefits associated with eating dates.  They contain Vitamin A, Potassium, Iron, and as it turns out, they are an excellent source of dietary fibre. This means we can ‘toot’ more regularly and subsequently reduce harm to our colon membrane.

Not only that, there are few raw ingredients that have such a rich sweetness. All in all this is terrific news for me as one of my favourite desserts is Sticky Date Pudding. The thought of a fluffy, spongy pudding, with the tart richness of a caramel sauce, is already making my mouth water.  For a  dessert  with such complex flavours it is very easy to make and even easier to reheat in an oven or microwave, not that you’ll need to.

Fresh dates can be found from August until December but dried dates are available all year round and both store well for months. When choosing dried dates they should not be rock hard. Fresh dates should have no crystallised sugar on their surface and have a smooth glossy skin.

STICKY DATE PUDDING
Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS

  • 375g (13oz) pitted dates, chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of bicarbonate soda (baking soda)
  • 1 teaspoon of grated ginger
  • 90g (3 ¼ oz) unsalted butter
  • 230g (8 oz/ 1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 185g (6 ½ oz/ 1 ½ cups) self-raising flour
  • ½ teaspoon mixed spice
  • caramel sauce (see link below), to serve

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°/Gas 4). Grease and line a deep 23cm ( 9 inch ) cake tin. Put the dates in a pan with 435ml (15fl oz/ 1 ¾ cups) water. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat, add the bicarbonate of soda and ginger and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Cream together the butter, sugar and 1 egg. Beat in the remaining eggs, one at a time. Fold in the sifted flour and mixed spice, add the date mixture and stir until well combined. Pour into the tin and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until cooked through. Leave to stand for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a serving plate. Serve immediately with the caramel sauce and ice cream or cream.

CARAMEL SAUCE

For perfect caramel sauce I recommend this excellent blog by The Purple Foodie.