Notorious Nightshades

The nightshades are a vegetable class that include eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers. Lately, I have been hearing some shady talk about this group. These vegetables belong to the Solanaceae family. Some very vocal celebrities advocate avoiding these nutritious vegetables. They claim that they are dangerous and can cause inflammation. The science for this is weak. Each of these vegetables contain different types of antioxidants which have solid research supporting their ANTI-inflammatory properties. It is possible that some individuals might experience joint pain when they consume the nightshades. They are probably sensitive to the alkaloid substance known as Solanine. For the rest of us, these vegetables are completely safe and healthy….and delicious.


ROASTED EGGPLANTS

Roasting is a great way to enjoy the nightshades. Slice the vegetables, season and coat with a little oil and then place in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes. The thinner you slice them, the quicker the cooking time.

Try this trick with your eggplants…it makes them less bitter and also allows you to use less oil. Slice the eggplants to ¼” and place in a single layer on a plate, lightly salt and then cover with a paper towel. Repeat and continue layering until you run out of eggplant. Cover the top with another paper towel and then a plate. Now put something heavy on top and let rest for approximately 30 minutes. Remove the eggplant slices from the wet paper towels and roast. Some recipes call for rinsing the eggplant before roasting but I find it you go easy on the salt, you do not need to.


PUNJABI EGGPLANT

Now that the evenings are cooling off, I like to make warm comforting dishes. Use up some eggplants and tomatoes in this recipe for Baingan Bharta (Punjabai Eggplant) from my favorite Indian cooking blog. The author is British so there may be some unfamiliar measurements. Here is how I convert them when I make this recipe:

For the 1/2 inch of the turmeric and chilli powders, I use 1/4 tsp of each; feel free to modify the chilli powder to your spice preference. Be sure to use cayenne pepper powder (or other pure dried ground hot pepper powder), not Mexican chili powder, which is often just labeled “chili powder” and contains a mixture of ingredients.

For the 1 inch minced ginger, you can either do exactly that, or if you are lazy like me and use already-minced jarred fresh ginger, you can use 4 tsp. Dried ginger powder gives a totally different taste, so be sure to use fresh ginger root here.  


HOT AND SOUR EGGPLANT SALAD

If you are looking for something extra spicy to do with the long, slender Asian eggplants, try this Sichuan recipe for hot and sour eggplant salad.  This recipe comes from the Mala Project, a cooking blog that is a great way to explore Sichuan cooking. They also have a small online shop for hard-to find ingredients.  To shop closer to home, the New Oriental Supermarket (476 King St in Littleton – next to the Littleton Sub Shop) is a great place to pick up any ingredients you don’t have on hand for this recipe.


SPICY KOREAN STUFFED STEAMED EGGPLANT

I’ve had a slight Korean food addiction (for the last 3 years or so…) and here is a great recipe to help use up the eggplant that keeps coming  and coming.  Make sure to use Korean hot pepper powder (or reduce it drastically, if you need to use another kind)–it is generally not too spicy, which is why it is used by the tablespoon.