Friday, September 23, 2011

Okra and Eggplant

Hello, blogosphere. It's been a while. Here's a quick update on my non-foodie life: I've been working a lot. And I started school again in August. So I've had zero time for blogging. BUT! I have had time for cooking. And eating. Which we will discuss. Today.

So as I mentioned in my previous entry, I decided to experiment with the okra and eggplant that I bought at the farmer's market. I've eaten okra a few times prior to this, but I'd never cooked it on my own. Eggplant, on the other hand, was completely foreign to me. And so, my adventure began.

For my first cooking experience with okra, I decided to stick with something simple, so I pan-fried it. Basically I sliced it, covered it in olive oil, covered it in bread crumbs, and tossed the whole thing in the frying pan for a while.

Okay, so it wasn't exactly "covered" in bread crumbs, but you get the idea.
The final result was pretty good. Not amazing, but definitely edible. After I got tired of that, I still had quite a bit of okra left over, so I had to start getting creative. This is when I learned an incredibly important fact: You can put okra in just about anything. And so I did. Okra got put in salads. Okra got put in fajitas. Okra got put in chili. Okra has also made several appearances in my omelets. 

Okra, Tomato, and Feta Omelet. And also a bagel.

My adopted brother, Ben (who grew up in the South), told me the ONLY way to cook okra is to fry it in butter. I haven't yet tried this method, but it's on my list.

Perhaps the biggest complaint I hear about okra is how slimy it is, but there are ways to get around this. As noted in this blog, oil-based cooking works better than water-based cooking. I've also heard that cooking them whole works better than slicing them, but I haven't tried this technique yet. Overall, I would say my okra experience includes a mild slime, but it's not so bad. Probably my best results come from mixing it with a lot of other stuff, such as the omelets and fajitas. It blends pretty seamlessly, and therefore slime-lessly. Truth be told, I don't even notice it most of the time, and neither does my husband when I sneak it in his food.

 Eggplant has been more of a problem for me.

My first eggplant experiment was awesome. I made this eggplant burger and it was such an excellent meat substitute:

Mmm... cheesy.

Eggplant Burgers (from Simply in Season, p. 143)
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Whisk together in a small bowl. Cut 1 large eggplant into 1/4-inch thick slices to make 12-16 slices. Brush with oil mixture. Place on grill over medium-high heat. Close lid and cook, turning and brushing occasionally with remaining oil mixture, until tender, 5-10 minutes. Remove from grill. (Eggplant slices may be cooked under the broiler or sautéed in a fry pan until tender.

Simply in Season recommends adding cheese, tomatoes, red peppers, fresh basil leaves, etc. I just added the cheese, which was perfect.

After the excellent first attempt, I thought eggplant would be another successful venture. But I was wrong. Oh so wrong.

I tried a few other recipes and I just couldn't get them right. The eggplant always came out wet and chewy. It wasn't bad, but I just didn't like it very much, and it quickly became difficult finding ways to eat it. Here are some that I tried and maybe I'll try them again later and see if I have better luck.

Spicy Roasted Eggplant (from Simply in Season, p. 121)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs (chopped)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
pinch of ground cinnamon

Stir together. Cut 1 large eggplant in 1/4-inch slices. Brush cilantro mixture on both sides of eggplant slices and transfer to greased baking pan. Broil eggplant 5-6 inches from heat until golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.


Broiled Eggplant with Crunchy Parmesan Crust (From Farmer John's Cookbook, p. 177. I used their recipe for making my own mayonnaise, but I did a pretty bad job. I think it's one of those things you have to follow the directions closely, or else. Maybe I'll make/buy better mayo and this will turn out better next time. Also, you can never have too much cheese.)
Oil for greasing the baking sheet
eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch slices
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup)

1. Preheat the broiler. Lightly oil a baking sheet.
2. Spread mayonnaise sparingly on both sides of each eggplant slice, then dip the slices in the grated Parmesan cheese, thoroughly coating both sides.
3. Arrange slices in a single layer on the oiled baking sheet and place under broiler until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip the slices and broil until golden brown and crunchy on top and the eggplant is soft, about 3 minutes more.

Served with pan-crusted tilapia, bread, and of course, fried okra
I really think the mayo was to blame for this one. I'm going to retry it later. And maybe make the mayo right this time.

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