Only recently have I realized the endless possibilities of cooking with eggplant. I have only cooked with it on a few occasions until recently, but now it's often on my grocery list as I explore this underrated and sadly neglected vegetable. Many people in my circle of acquaintances think that eggplant is flavorless, bland and soggy, yet so many of the recipe books I own contain numerous recipes for eggplant and the local market always has a good supply on hand all year round. I guess that eggplant is not as unpopular as I originally thought.
It all depends on how you prepare this vegetable, though technically it is a fruit. True, it doesn't really have much flavor, but from a culinary point of view it is a rather ideal vegetable to cook with because it absorbs seasonings and flavors well. Eggplant doesn't keep for long, so it is best to purchase it a day or so before using it. Lightly salting the eggplant and letting it sit for an hour or so before patting the slices dry helps get rid of some of the moisture and bitterness. If you are adding it to soups or stews, add near the end of the cooking time. You don't need to peel the eggplant because the skin is edible, but most cooks do unless they want to bake it whole in the oven, or stuffed. In either case, the skin will not likely be consumed.
Bake it, steam it, fry it, roast or broil it, and you will come up with various serving ideas. Eggplant is commonly included in stews, soups and casseroles, curries, salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes among other favorites appearing on the dinner table. Often overlooked is that eggplant really does shine on its own as the center piece of a tapas platter or as a standalone appetizer to stimulate the palate before the main course. To illustrate this claim, I came up with these little eggplant bites. I defy eggplant skeptics to stop at only one.
The quinoa here is mixed with a rather unconventional pesto as part of the topping, but I found it worked perfectly, adding an extra layer of flavor to the tapas.
In addition to serving as an appetizer, you may want to include them as part of a light lunch or dinner, served with a lightly dressed lentil or leafy green salad. A word of caution if you are serving them as an appetizer prior to a full course main: these little nibblers are addictive, so resist the temptation to eat too many, or serve them well in advance before the rest of your culinary efforts grace the dinner table.
|Eggplant Quinoa Bites with Pesto
|Recipe by Lisa Turner
Published on September 22, 2012
A wonderful appetizer of broiled eggplant slices topped with a quinoa pesto and melted cheese
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- 1/3 cup quinoa (1 cup cooked)
- 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
- olive oil
- sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- 4 - 5 sun-dried tomatoes
- 1/2 cup packed fresh basil, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon chipotle powder or chili powder
- juice from 1 small lemon or lime
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- sea salt to taste
- 2 small tomatoes or 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced
- 8 oz fontina or mozzarella cheese, cut into slices
- 1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Makes about 16 rounds
Rinse the quinoa and soak overnight in 2/3 cup of water. Bring to a boil in a small saucepan, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Let cool for five minutes and fluff with a fork. Set aside.
Prepare the eggplant by lining a baking sheet with parchment paper. Rest wire racks over the baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and lightly salt them. Arrange on the wire racks and leave them to rest on the rack for 1 hour.
Bake the eggplant slices in a 400° oven for 25 to 30 minutes until they soften and begin to brown slightly. Flip them over once halfway through the baking time.
Meanwhile, soak the sun-dried tomatoes in hot water for 30 minutes, then drain and chop.
Prepare the pesto. In a food processor or using a mortar and pestle, blend together the sun-dried tomatoes, basil, chipotle powder or chili powder, lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt. Add more olive oil if it needs thinning. Taste for seasoning. Mix the pesto into the cooked quinoa.
Preheat your broiler and move the rack to the top of the oven.
To assemble, spoon and spread some of the quinoa-pesto mixture over the baked eggplant slices, top with a slice of tomato or a few slices of cherry tomatoes, a slice of fontina or mozzarella cheese, and sprinkle with some of the grated Parmesan.
Place the pan under the broiler and broil until the cheese begins to melt and bubble and brown a bit, about 5 minutes. The eggplant should be slightly browned on the edges. Take care not to burn the eggplant.
Remove from heat and let cool for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.
Other small bites from Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen you are sure to enjoy:
Stuffed Mushrooms with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Olives
Olive Cheese Balls
Goat Cheese Olive Balls
Stuffed Jalapeno Peppers with Goat's Cheese and Sun-dried Tomatoes
On the top of the reading stack: Simply More Indian: More Sweet and Spicy Recipes from India, Pakistan and East Africa
Audio Accompaniment: Robert Rich