Moussaka

There are some vegetables that you simply must peel to consume. The beautiful eggplant however, can be eaten, skin and all. It boils down to personal preference. Once you realize the health benefits from the eggplant’s skin, your peeler may never make another appearance again.

Eggplant actually ranks among the most popular edible vegetables of the world since it is enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean, the Far East, the Americas and practically in all Latin American countries. Undoubtedly, its popularity stems from the pleasantly bitter and vibrant taste, agreeable texture and endless versatility. It can be prepared in a variety of ways; pan-fried, breaded and deep-fried, stewed, baked, pureed and grilled.

When purchasing eggplant, look for plump, heavy, unwrinkled eggplant that feels quite firm to the touch. There should be no external blemishes or signs of bruising and decay. Reject any that are wilted or soft. It’s harvested ripe and best eaten soon after purchase. It can be stored for several days, unwrapped, in a refrigerator at 40 F. When cutting or chopping it, use a stainless-steel knife, since carbon-steel utensils can cause discoloration and a bitter aftertaste.

Sometimes, an eggplant can be a little more bitter than usual. One trick is to slice or dice your eggplant and then lightly salt it. Let it sit for about 30 minutes. This will remove the bitterness and extract quite a bit of water, so you’ll need to rinse then pat the eggplant dry.

There are literally hundreds of ways to prepare eggplant, but eggplant Parmesan, ratatouille and moussaka are easy to prepare and loved by many!

Eggplant Parmesan can be prepared a couple of different ways. Home cooks will slice the eggplant, lightly bread and fry it and then layer it in a casserole with sauce and Parmesan cheese then bake it like lasagna. This is my personal favorite! In restaurants, however, we will usually fry our breaded eggplant, then sauce and cheese it to order. Many restaurants today will purchase their eggplant already breaded and frozen. This is called a value-added product and eliminates the time of preparation as well as waste. Most frozen, breaded eggplant has already been partially fried. This gives the pizzeria operator some alternatives during final preparation. Deep-frying is certainly the easiest way to finish cooking the eggplant, but you can also finish cooking it on the flattop grill or in your pizza oven, if you don’t have a fryer. (As a side note, breaded eggplant can be offered as a pizza topping or on an eggplant Parmesan sub.)

Cutting eggplant into sticks instead of circles allows you to offer fried eggplant as an appetizer alternative.

A healthier choice when offering eggplant would be to drizzle it with olive oil and a dusting of salt and pepper, then grill it. You can do this with eggplant circles or planks. By cutting the eggplant into planks, this allows you to stuff and roll your eggplant or layer it with a ricotta cheese filling, sautéed spinach, roasted red peppers or whatever else you may like. Top it with tomato sauce and cheese for a wonderful dish.

Here is an eggplant dish called Moussaka that is found in many Greek restaurants and pizzerias:

Moussaka

2 pounds lean ground lamb

1 minced onion

3 cloves minced garlic

1 large can diced tomatoes in puree

½ cup red wine

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 large or 2 small eggplants

2 cups vegetable oil

1 stick butter

1/3 cup flour

3 cups milk

salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Place the onion, garlic and lamb in a saucepan, then cook for 4 to 5 minutes until browned.

Add the tomatoes in puree, wine, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the sliced eggplant in batches in the oil for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden. Drain on absorbent kitchen paper and set aside.

Melt the in a saucepan, then add the flour and cook for 1 minute.

Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the milk.

Return to the heat and cook, stirring continuously until thick and smooth. Add salt and pepper and half the cheese.

Layer 1/3 of the eggplant in an oven proof casserole and spoon over 1/2 the meat mixture. Repeat the layers, finishing with a layer of eggplant.

Spoon the white sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes until golden brown.

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