EGGPLANT SKILLET CASSEROLE: Removing traces of a shady past, the eggplant story.

savoryI only knew one kind of eggplant growing up in Manila – the eggplant that my mother used to cook or buy from the public market. Little did I know; there are so many varieties of eggplant to this day. The most popular variety available to most Americans is Italian eggplant.

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Based on Specialty Produce information page (a fresh produce wholesaler based in San Diego, CA) Italian eggplants are oblong and small to medium in size with bulb-like bottoms. The outer skin is glossy, smooth, and ranges from lavender to deep purple in color. The inner flesh is firm and ivory white with barely any visible seeds. Italian eggplants are tender and creamy with rich flavor when cooked. ”

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The Filipino eggplants that I grew up with look similar to Japanese eggplants. They are long, slender and sometimes curved with slightly visible seeds that are also edible. Compared to Italian eggplants, the Filipino eggplants have thinner skin with mild and sweet taste when cooked.

 

 

I love using eggplants in my cooking especially when I’m craving for more savory vegetable dish. Because of its spongy and absorbent flesh, eggplant can absorb any seasoning, spices or sauce that you cook with it.

I can eat eggplant simply sliced and pan-fried. I usually pair it with steamed rice and dipping sauce of whatever combination is available in my fridge that is easy to put together like:
* Soy sauce and freshly cut limes,
* Fish sauce and kalamansi extract,
* Soy sauce and Sriracha sauce, since I can’t readily find Siling Labuyo or Filipino wild chili.
And my favorite…
* Fermented shrimp paste that I always stock in the fridge

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By the way, how do you know if an Asian is living in a house? When you open the fridge and find any shrimp paste, oyster sauce or fish sauce. Unfortunately, we really love using those smelly fermented condiments as dipping sauces to pair with most of our meals. Those sauces give most Asian food its rich umami flavor. And that wasn’t a knock-knock joke, anyhow.

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Eggplants are very versatile to use in any cooking methods. They can be used as ingredients or main dish. They can be pan-fried, sautéed, baked, and grilled. They can be sliced into rounds, diced, hollowed out, stuffed, and battered or simply drenched in eggs or flour. I even saw eggplants made into pizza… on Google; and I will try that recipe one of these days, promise!

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In as much as they are versatile, eggplants are also shady. Not only because of their association with other nightshade vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes but more so because eggplants have darker past.

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My research showed that one time in a distance past, eggplant was a forbidden fruit as it was once believed to be extremely poisonous especially the flowers and leaves, if consumed in large quantities due to the presence of something called solanine. But who eats the flowers and the leaves… and in large quantities for heaven’s sake? You eat the fruit!

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Anyway, as Wikipedia claimed, in the 13th-century Italian traditional folklore, eggplant was believed to cause insanity. It also said that in 19th-century Egypt, insanity was more common and more violent during its season in the summer.

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I have no clue how eggplant has recovered its ill repute from its dark past but its current nutritional data proved that eggplants are good food because they contain some vitamin B6, manganese, and potassium and an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants. Yet, it is still not advisable to eat raw eggplant because the skin is slightly hard.

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To keep eggplants fresh, do not store them in the fridge or sealed container but anywhere at room temperature.

Here is one eggplant recipe I made recently. This recipe is an Italian-Filipino fusion. In my effort to avoid using culinary jargons, let me say that this recipe is a combination of Eggplant Omelet (Filipino style Tortang Talong) and Eggplant Parmesan baked in a skillet like a casserole.

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This is a very easy and healthy recipe, mostly vegetables with no flour and gluten. I used dairy products like egg and cheese. If you want to further cut down on dairy, you can substitute shredded cheese with a mixture of (gluten-free) corn flakes crumbs (3 cups) and extra-virgin olive oil (1/2 cup). Top this over the eggplant prior to baking. To achieve optimum health benefits, choose organic produce for vegetables as much as possible and if your budget permits.

EGGPLANT SKILLET CASSEROLE
Yield: 2 Servings Mini-Skillet

Ingredients —
* Italian eggplant – I medium size
* Egg – 1, beaten
* Garlic – 2-3 cloves minced
* Onion – 1 medium, diced
* Vegetables of choice – 3 cups diced (broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, cauliflower, etc.)
* Choice of shredded cheese – 2 cups (mozzarella, American cheese, etc.)
* Homemade Asian sauce – mix together 1 tsp. sesame oil, 1 tsp. soy sauce (or fish sauce), ½ tsp ginger powder, and ½ tsp. dry parsley
* OR any store-brand Asian sauce or marinade – 2 tbsp.
* Salt and pepper to taste

 

Cooking —
1. Wash all the vegetables before cutting. For the eggplants, slice them lengthwise or from stem down to the base into 6 slices. Dice up the extra ends and include them in the stir-fry.
2. Prick the eggplant slices with fork tines in few places.
3. Beat the egg and season with salt and pepper. Add a little pinch of dry parsley if desired.
4. Drench the eggplant slices in egg mixture until thoroughly soaked.
5. Pan-fry eggplant slices until slightly brown, about 3 minutes each side. Set aside.
6. In a separate pan, sauté garlic and onion; when translucent add other vegetables.
7. Add the sauce into the pan, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside.
8. Preheat the oven at 350F for 10 minutes.
9. Spray the mini-skillet with grease or oil.
10. Layer one slice of pan-fried eggplant at the bottom of the skillet. Top with stir-fried vegetables. Repeat until each mini-skillet gets 3 layers of eggplant.
11. Top with shredded cheese and bake at 350F for 15 minutes.

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If you don’t want to use skillet, just layer pan-fried eggplant slices and stir-fried vegetables in any baking dish (as shown below). Pour any remaining egg mixture in the dish. Top with shredded cheese and bake for 15 minutes at 350F.

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