Sept. 15, 2002 – Meaty-tasting eggplant can be the foundation for fabulous one-dish vegetarian meals. Here's one with island influence: Eggplant Creole.
The plump purple eggplant at the roadside stand looked so lush I just had to buy a few. When I got them home, the question was what to make? When I was growing up, my mother would slice eggplant into ovals or french fry-size sticks, coat them in egg and breadcrumbs, and fry them crisp. I have fond memories of that treat, but I decided to make something a bit more healthful out of my eggplant for my family.
Eggplant itself is plenty healthful. A one-cup portion, boiled or steamed, contains just 48 calories; is a good source of dietary fiber and a fair amount of vitamin A, potassium and magnesium; and contains no fat, sodium or cholesterol.
Botanically, eggplant is related to the potato and tomato, although it is classified as a fruit — actually, believe it or not, a berry! — and not as a vegetable.
When cooking with eggplant, here are some tips:
1. Since the flesh discolors rapidly, don't cut an eggplant until you are ready to use it.
2. Bitter, overripe fruit can benefit from this ancient method: Cut the eggplant in half, salt both halves and allowing them to sit for 20 minutes, then rinse them. The salt helps to eliminate some of the acrid taste.
3. Minimize the fruit's sponge-like capacity to soak up oil by having your cooking oil very hot before you add the eggplant.
The beauty of a dish like Eggplant Creole is that it serves up a variety of produce — a big foot forward in getting your five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Also, the tomato paste addition and cheese topping give the dish an eggplant parmesan or lasagna appeal that makes it a winner with kids. Just try it!
Eggplant Creole
3 medium eggplant, sliced into rounds
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, cut into quarters
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 fresh tomatoes, peeled and quartered
3 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
3 red or orange bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1/2 hot pepper, seeded and chopped – optional
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 sprig parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste1/2 cup water
Pinch of oregano
Pinch of thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Lightly salt eggplant rounds and let them sit for 30 minutes. This helps to remove any bitter taste. Rinse, dry and lightly fry eggplant in olive oil over medium heat. Remove and place eggplant into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Sauté onion, garlic, tomato, peppers and celery in the frying pan for 5 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients except cheeses. Cook until thick. Pour sauce over eggplant. Grate cheese over the eggplant and sauce. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and browned.
Serves 6. Per serving: 186 calories, 8 gms fat (37 percent fat calories), 8 mg cholesterol, 346 mg sodium.

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