Eggplant is one of those brilliant vegetables that is not native to North America but is now found in every grocery store. The jury is still out as to where and when this versatile nightshade plant was first introduced to our continent, though it could have been either the French or the Italians or the Notorious T.J. at Monticello. But even though eggplant became increasingly popular amongst a certain sector of Southern society, it never worked its way into soul food - which is ironic, because eggplant is a key ingredient in so many 'soul food' dishes all over the world. It is relatively easy to grow as long as you have the right climate and enough water.
Because eggplant is in the nightshade family, some folks with specific allergies,or if they have arthritis or a related inflammatory disease, may not be able to eat the fruit safely, . But for the vast major of folks, not only is eggplant tolerable but it boasts great health benefits. In fact, eggplant's ample bioflavonoids may be beneficial in preventing strokes and hemorrhages and it also contains antioxidants helpful in preventing heart disease and cancer. I also personally think that eggplant is delicious.
I ate a lot of eggplant dishes in Eastern Europe, but one of my favorite preparations was a simple but flavorful salad loaded with sunflower oil and lots of herbs. What I love about this salad is that has a firmer texture than other eggplant salads and is also so bright tasting. I've added lemon and garlic to my version and I use fruity olive oil to add another layer of flavor. This is a great salad to serve as an appetizer or side dish, and is perfect filed on top of a pita chip or crusty bread. As always, I keep the salt low, but feel free to adjust to taste.
2 large tomatoes, heirloom or beefsteak
1 medium green bell pepper
1 medium red bell pepper
1 large eggplant, purple (Globe) or speckled (an Italian varietal)
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 small Vidalia or other sweet onion, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Pinch fine kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon each chopped fresh dill, chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped green onion, and chopped fresh mint
1. Place the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant in a large bowl and drizzle with one tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss the vegetables until they are evenly covered with the oil.
2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spread the oiled vegetables on the sheet. Turn on your broiler and place the baking sheet on a rack a couple of inches below the broiler. Cook the vegetables for a few minutes on each side, checking and turning so that they are evenly charred. Remove from the oven and place in a paper bag and seal, or in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let steam for 5-10 minutes, or until the skin peels easily from the vegetables.
3. Peel each of the peppers with your hands and discard the skin. Don't worry if all of the skin doesn't come off. Core, then roughly chop. Place in a large bowl. Next peel the eggplant and the tomatoes and roughly chop. Add to the large bowl with the peppers. Mix in the chopped onions and garlic and season with the salt and pepper.
4. To finish, sprinkle the lemon juice and remaining olive oil all over the vegetables, then sprinkle in all of the herbs. Toss gently to combine. You can drizzle more on olive oil if you wish.