Aubergine: An eggplant by any other name

Eggplant is so called because the first varieties known to English-speaking people bore colorful egg shaped fruits. The eggplant is also known in other cuisines by various names, including  aubergine, melanzana, or brinjal,  Probably form the French, then from Catalan albergínia, from Arabic al-bādhinjān,  the eggplant is a mysterious, enigmatic and delicious vegetable when prepared properly.

A staple in cuisines of the Mediterranean region, eggplant figures prominently in such classic dishes as the Greek moussaka, the Italian eggplant parmigiana, and the Middle Eastern relish baba ghanoush. It is also frequently served as a baked, grilled, fried, or boiled vegetable and is used as a garnish and in stews.

Eggplant (Solanum melongena), also called aubergine or Guinea squash, is a tender perennial plant of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), closely related to the tomato and potato. Eggplant requires a warm climate and is grown extensively in eastern and southern Asia and in the United States. It is native to southern and eastern Asia, where it has been cultivated since remote antiquity for its fleshy fruit.  The fruit is a large egg-shaped berry, varying in colour from dark purple to red, yellowish, or white (the color and shape of the white variety is the source of the common name); it is sometimes striped and has a glossy surface.

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Why it is so fascinating to me:  Several years ago, i was preparing for a trip to Spain. It was a grand tour, including Barcelona, Granada, Valencia, Cordoba and the charming town of Girona. I thought it was time to brush up on my Spanish, and learn a few more phrases and common items before my trip. Little did I know until much later that they speak Catalan, not Spanish, in Barcelona, but some extra linguistic studying wouldn’t hurt. I’ve always enjoyed the Hispanic markets, and shopped frequently at them for vegetables, staples and unusual items. The items were listed on the shelves in both Spanish and English which made learning the names of the vegetables much easier.

So, I’ve seen carrots (zanahoria), apples (manzana), strawberry ( fresca), garlic (ajo), potato (patata), lettuce (lechuga), onion  (cebolla), but I did not know the word for eggplant. I am wandering the produce bins, and see  beautiful eggplants on the shelves for 3 for $ 1.oo. I’m thinking baba ghannoush, or roasted eggplant, or caponata, or just some delicious Eggplant Parmesan, but I ned to know the name in Spanish. the produce clerk. I ask him in my broken Spanish: Lo que se llama esto? (What is this called in Spanish?) He looks confused, puzzled and looks to the heaven for an answer. Our Lady of Guadalupe knows the word for ‘eggplant’ ?  He is completely stumped. I try to visualize and play a game of charades with him, gesturing and forming an ‘air-eggplant’ with my hands. He probably thinks I’m crazy (loco), and making the image of a Conehead , or some bizarre Flamenco dancer or Quetzecotl human sacrifice altar…I don’t know what he thinks, but clearly he doesn’t have an answer for me. I hold up an eggplant and ask him again, but alI he has to say is: “Yo no lo se.” ( I don’t know). …or care…maybe…I didn’t really know.

I see a trio of Spanish women spanning three generations: a glorious grandmother, dressed completely  in black, probably mourning her late husband who fought with Pancho Villa; her daughter, a stunning Chiquita with 7″ platform red shoes, a dress so tight you could see her freckles, doing her best Shakira/Housewives of Nogales impersonation and exuding a mucho hispanic-ness that would set ICE alarms off at 50 paces; and then there was the poquita nina, a sweet doe-eyed child of 6 or 7 just tagging along for the grocery store visit with mama and nana. It was a combined vision of Goya, Valasquez and modern day  cover of People en Espagnole !  So I still don’t know what the word for eggplant in Spanish is yet, and I reach out to tres generacions for an answer.

I turn to the daughter and ask: Do you know what the Spanish word for eggplant is please?  No se, she responds. I turn to the youngest and ask again. She has no idea, though thoughtful and reflective. Stranger Danger ? Who’s the weird guy in a white coat (chef’s jacket), asking these questions? Finally, I turn to the eldest woman, the dark, mysterious and enigmatic matron of the family. Politely, I ask again:Lo que se llama esto?” She ponders. She pauses. She smiles. She (also) looks to the heavens. She looks at me, she looks at the daughter. The granddaughter. The clerk. and then, again at me. She has a revelation for me. An epiphany? Will I finally know the answer? Does she know? Yes. She pulls away her veil ( yes a black veil, in Rancho Market on a Tuesday), pauses, looks me right in the eyes and feeling my curiosity and tenacity and anticipation, and she says the word. “Eggplant” she states. I could have died laughing. But the joke was on me, afterall. My unswerving quest to master the eggplant was a transnational comedic experience.

Oh, by the way, I did later learn the Spanish word. It is berenjena. Not nearly as funny as eggplant or aubergine, but I am a better chef for knowing. Anyone for Spanish eggplant street tacos?

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Quinoa Tabbouleh

Quinoa Tabbouleh

“Quinoa, once a staple grain of ancient Incas, is tossed with lemon juice, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, green onions and parsley. Serve with pita bread.”

 

 

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups water

1 cup quinoa

1 pinch salt

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup lemon juice

3 tomatoes, diced

1 cucumber, diced

2 bunches green onions, diced

2 carrots, grated

1 cup fresh parsley, chopped

 

DIRECTIONS:

1. In a saucepan bring water to a boil. Add quinoa and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature; fluff with a fork.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine olive oil, sea salt, lemon juice, tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, carrots and parsley. Stir in cooled quinoa.

 

Quinoa Muffins with Parmesan and pinenuts

Makes 12 muffins

 

Ingredients

1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour

1/2 Cup Quinoa

1 TBSP baking powder

1/8 tsp Salt

3/4 Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 Cup pine nuts

2 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk

6 TBSP butter, softened

 

Topping:

4 tsp grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup pine nuts

 

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 F
  • Line a muffin pan with 12 muffin liners
  • For the topping, combine parmesan and pine nuts and set aside
  • In a large bowl, combine flour, quinoa flour, baking powder and salt with a whisk
  • Stir in the parmesan and pine nuts
  • In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs and then beat in the buttermilk and oil
  • In the large bowl with the flour, make a well in the center and pour in the liquid mixture
  • Stir gently until just combined. Do not to over mix
  • Spoon the batter into prepared muffin pan. Sprinkle topping over the batter
  • Bake for about 20 minutes until well risen and golden brown
  • Allow muffins to cool for about 5 minutes.

 

 

Barley Salad with Apricots and Almonds

Barley salad with Apricots and almonds

 

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups pearl barley

4 1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 red onion, thinly sliced

3/4 cup dried apricots, sliced

1/2 cup sliced almonds

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

2 tablespoons honey

1 lemon, juiced

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pinch ground nutmeg

 

DIRECTIONS:

1. Rinse barley in a fine sieve. Bring water to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Stir in the barley, and return to a boil. Cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until water is absorbed, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
2. Pour oil into a small skillet, and place over medium heat. Add onion, and saute until golden brown.
3. In a serving dish, combine barley, onion, apricots, almonds, and parsley. Toss.
4. In a small bowl, mix together yogurt, honey, lemon juice, cinnamon, turmeric, salt, and nutmeg. Pour over the barley mixture ,and toss well to combine. Serve at room temperature.

 

Barley Risotto Primavera

Barley Risotto Primavera

 

INGREDIENTS:

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

2 carrots, diced

1 zucchini, diced

3 small yellow squash, diced

4 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 small onion, diced

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup pearl barley

2 tablespoons butter (optional)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

1. Heat 1 teaspoon vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat; cook

and stir carrots 2 to 3 minutes. Add zucchini and yellow squash; cook

until tender, 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Heat chicken broth in a large saucepan over medium heat; reduce heat

to low and keep warm.

3. Heat 1 teaspoon vegetable oil in a separate large skillet over medium

heat; cook and stir onion until lightly browned and tender, about 10

minutes. Add garlic and thyme; cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.

Cook and stir barley into onion mixture until lightly toasted, 2 to 3

minutes.

4. Pour about 2 cups warm broth into barley mixture; reduce heat to low,

and simmer, stirring occasionally, until broth is absorbed, 5 to 10

minutes. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, allowing broth to

absorb before each addition, until barley is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in carrot mixture, butter, and Parmesan cheese until cheese melts,

1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.

Chocolate Orange Quinoa Brownies

Chocolate Orange Quinoa Brownies

30 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 7 tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup organic quinoa
  • zest of 1 orange

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a

time, stirring well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine

the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, orange zest and quinoa;

gradually add to butter mixture just until moistened.

Transfer to a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Bake at 350° for

20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes

out clean (do not overbake). Cool on a wire rack.

Yield: about 2-1/2 dozen.