- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Eggplant is looking younger, fresher and more appealing than ever.

Unfortunately, when left too long, the fruit (actually a berry) becomes bitter. Eggplant is still edible but requires a tedious salting process to draw out the unpleasant taste.

You’re less likely to be subjected to over-the-hill eggplant when you buy it now when it’s in season. You’re also more apt to find different eggplant varieties that don’t have the acrid taste of the large pulpy type.

Long slender purple or striated eggplant, labeled Japanese or Oriental, are slightly sweet.

Petite lavender Chinese eggplant is very sweet and contains fewer seeds than the large, dark glossy eggplant you most often see in supermarkets. Small white eggplant has a creamy texture, although less moisture than other varieties.

If you’re adventurous, check your farmers market for Thai yellow eggplant, about the size of a large egg, but with golden yellow skin. This eggplant has a hint of hot spiciness that’s accented when the fruit is fried or grilled.

Whatever the variety, choose eggplant that is blemish-free, wrinkle-free, firm and heavy for its size.

Eggplant is very perishable and should be cooked within a day or two of purchase, which shouldn’t be a problem if you’re an eggplant lover.

The following recipe, a variation on caponata, a Sicilian dish, is worthy of the best eggplant. You can make this dish up to a day in advance, but bring it to room temperature for a meal. Serve eggplant as a light vegetarian entree with crusty bread or as a side dish to herb-coated chicken.

Herb-coated chicken

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large shallot, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh mixed herbs, such as basil, sage, oregano and thyme

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes

2 small chicken breast halves (with skin)

Heat oil in very small skillet. Add shallot and saute for 1 minute over medium-high heat or until tender but not browned. Remove shallot to a plate. Add herbs, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, and stir into shallot. Press chicken, skin-side down in herb mixture to coat.

Place chicken in small, shallow roasting pan. Cook in preheated 375-degree oven for 40 minutes, or until chicken is golden brown and cooked through. Makes 2 servings.

Eggplant and mushroom salad

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 Japanese or Chinese eggplant, cut in 1/41/2-inch dice

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms

1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano or 1/4 teaspoon crushed dried oregano

1/4 cup chopped pitted Nicoise olives

1 teaspoon capers

2½ teaspoons white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon pine nuts, optional

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot, eggplant and garlic. Saute over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and oregano.

Saute for 2 to 3 minutes longer or until mushrooms are tender. Discard garlic. Spoon vegetables and any remaining oil into a serving bowl. Add olives, capers, vinegar, salt and pepper. Stir well. Sprinkle on pine nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 2 servings.


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