Eggplant a versatile and tasty ingredient for cooking

Q: I have never known what to do with eggplant. Can you help?

A: Eggplant has a mild flavor that is enhanced by culinary herbs and other vegetables. When purchasing, look for a firm eggplant that is 6 to 8 inches long. Choose one with tender, smooth, glossy skin. Also, look for one that, when it is gently pressed, yields to the pressure but the dent disappears. Look for an eggplant with an oval, not round, dimple at the blossom end. Select one where the stem and cap are still greenish and fresh looking.

Avoid eggplants that have hard flesh, as well as ones where the dent remains in the flesh after it is gently pressed, because it is likely to be brown and spongy inside, taste bitter, and have large tough seeds. Avoid those with a round dimple on the blossom end, since they may have more seeds and be spongier. Avoid eggplant that is dull, discolored, soft, shriveled or split. Avoid those with dark brown spots, which are a sign of decay.

Refrigerate unwashed eggplant in a perforated plastic bag in the vegetable drawer for up to 1 week. Handle gently to avoid bruises. It develops a bitter taste during storage in the refrigerator; therefore, if it is not used within a week, freeze it.

To freeze, rinse off dirt. Cut off ends. Peel if skin is tough. Dice, or slice into 1/3-inch thick rounds. Immediately place them in a mixture of 1 gallon boiling water with 1/2 cup lemon juice for 2 to 4 minutes. Remove and place in ice water for 2 to 4 minutes. Drain. Place in freezer bags, leaving 3 inches of air. Squeeze out the air, seal, date and freeze.

Young tender eggplant may be cooked with the peel left on. After rinsing off the dirt, cook eggplant by baking, grilling, steaming or frying it.

To cook on the grill, cut the eggplant into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. Brush with an oil mixture (2 tablespoons oil, 2 teaspoons wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper). Place on the grill over medium-high heat. Close lid and cook, turning occasionally and continue brushing with remaining oil mixture. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until tender. If desired, top with slices of provolone or Gouda cheese, sliced tomatoes, roasted red sweet peppers, fresh basil and freshly ground pepper. Close the grill lid and cook until cheese begins to melt. Remove from grill. (Eggplant slices may also be cooked under the broiler or sauteed in a frypan until tender, 4 to 5 minutes per side.)

Here’s another dish that pleases people who do not usually enjoy eating eggplant!

Italian Eggplant Casserole

1/2 medium onion, cut in half or quarters and sliced thinly

1/2 clove minced garlic

1/2 cup coarsely chopped tomatoes

2 teaspoons fresh (or 3/4 teaspoon dried) basil

2 teaspoons fresh (or 3/4 teaspoon dried) oregano

1 small eggplant, cut into 1/4″ thick slices

1 large tomato, sliced very thin

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium skillet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, cook onion over medium heat until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add chopped tomatoes, basil and oregano. Cook gently over low heat for 10 minutes.

Spread half of the mixture over the bottom of a 5 x 9 inch baking pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Add half of the eggplant slices then half of the tomato slices. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella cheese over the top. Repeat layers.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Uncover and bake 10-15 minutes, or until the layer of cheese is light brown.

Cut into 4 servings. Serve hot.

Nutrition facts per serving: 110 calories, 5 grams total fat, 3.5 saturated fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 220 milligrams sodium, 7 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 3 grams sugar, 7 grams protein, 20 percent daily value for calcium and vitamin C.

Q: I am thinking about setting up a temporary food stand at a summer festival. What do I need to know?

A: For a complete fact sheet on “Temporary Food Establishments”, see this website from the Kansas Department of Agriculture Food Safety division

Here are some of the points to keep in mind to serve food safely in food stands:

• Food prepared in private home may not be used or offered.

• All equipment needed for the intended operation must be on hand.

• Food contact surfaces must be protected from contamination by consumers.

• There must be separate areas for taking money and preparing food.

• Dishwashing must include washing, rinsing and sanitizing equipment.

• A handwashing facility must be available with hot/warm water, soap and paper towels.

• Only one raw, potentially hazardous food that requires onsite preparation or cooking can be made or served.

— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.