Eggplants, also known as aubergines or brinjals, grow all over the world. They are fruits — though, like tomatoes, they are treated more in cooking like a vegetable. In fact, they’re closely related to tomatoes and peppers. Purple eggplants are the most common cultivar in American grocery stores. Some purple fruits appear almost black due to their rich pigments.
And these coveted nightshade plants are currently in abundance from your garden, the local farmer’s market, or perhaps some friendly neighbors. With so many recipes to choose from, this particular one from Food Network uses the eggplant in a clever way.
Even though the exterior of eggplant is a gorgeous deep purple color; the beauty of this vegetable lies on the inside. This recipe takes advantage of the fact that the flesh of grilled eggplant transforms into a luscious creamy sauce that’s perfect for dressing up little tubes of rigatoni. To make the most of summer’s bounty, cherry tomatoes are grilled alongside the eggplant until bursting with juices, then mixed into this summer vegetable pasta.
Health Facts: Eggplant is rich in fiber, protein, manganese, and nutrients like potassium and vitamins C and K. It is a great source of antioxidants, which make it effective in guarding your body against future ailments. Being so rich in fiber, eggplants are also great for keeping your blood sugar levels intact.
11 oz. cherry tomatoes (about 2 cups), halved (quartered if large)
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
1 cup packed basil leaves, chopped, plus more for serving
1/2 cup packed parsley leaves, chopped, plus more for serving
Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)
Prepare a grill for high heat.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lemon juice to the boiling water and cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot; set aside.
Pierce the eggplant a few times with a fork or knife. Place on the grill, cover and cook, turning every 8 to 10 minutes, until completely charred all over and the flesh is soft when pressed, 25 to 30 minutes.
Transfer to a large bowl and let cool slightly for 10 minutes.
While the eggplant cooks, prepare 2 sheets of foil, each 12-by-12-inches, and stack them together. Place the tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper in the center of the foil. Fold over 2 opposite sides of the foil then fold in the remaining sides to create a tight seal.
When 15 minutes of cooking time remain for the eggplant, add the foil pack to the grill and cook until juices start to bubble out of the top (this means the tomatoes and garlic are sufficiently cooked without having to open the pack), 13 to 15 minutes.
Remove the eggplant to a cutting board (keeping any juices that accumulated in the bowl) and squeeze gently to crack the skin and expose the flesh. Use a spoon to remove the flesh, transfer to the large bowl and mash lightly with the spoon or a potato masher (you should have about 1 cup of flesh); discard the skin.
Stir in the ricotta and Pecorino Romano until smooth then pour into the pot with the pasta and mix until combined. Fold in the contents of the foil pack (including any juices that accumulated), the basil, parsley, lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper; stir until combined, adding the reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to thin out the sauce if needed.
Serve with more basil, parsley, Pecorino Romano and crushed red pepper flakes if using.
Spicy Grilled Pork with Fennel, Cumin and Red Onion, just the name gets my juices flowing. Imbued with spices that char at high heat, this aromatic pork recipe is a snap to throw together — exactly what you want for a night of summer grilling.
If using wooden skewers, don’t forget to soak them in water for an hour before grilling, so they don’t flare up. And, NYTimes where we got the recipe, suggested if you’re broiling and you don’t want to bother with skewers at all, just spread the pork cubes out on a rimmed sheet pan, turning them halfway through cooking with tongs or a spatula. Always good to have a Plan B for inclement weather.
Our side dish of Smashed Cucumber Salad with Peanuts, Scallions and Cilantro was just the ticket to compliment the pork and make for a low-carb dinner. The lime and heat in both recipes ensured a unity of tastes. I see making this by itself as a lunch, and would be great to bring to a picnic, potluck or dinner invitation.
While I basically stuck to the pork kebab recipe, I made a few changes in how I handled the cuke salad from Milk Street. Besides cutting the recipe in half, I left the salted cucumber slices in the colander for an hour as opposed to 15 minutes to make sure most of the moisture would be removed. And instead of several cans on the inside plate while draining the slices, I added weight by filling a smaller heavy bowl with water.
A meat mallet came in handy for both smashing the cucumbers and the roasted peanuts, but you may have another preference.
Spicy Grilled Pork with Fennel, Cumin and Red Onion
¼ cup cilantro or basil, leaves and tender stems, plus more for serving
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 jalapeño or other green chile, seeded if desired
1 tsp. honey
1 ½ tablespoons fennel seeds
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 small red onion, sliced, for serving
Season pork lightly with kosher salt and put it in a bowl or resealable bag.
Juice the lime into a blender or food processor and add cilantro, fish sauce, garlic, jalapeño and honey. Blend until the jalapeño and garlic are puréed, then add fennel, cumin, coriander seeds and pulse four or five times to bruise the spices and mix them in.
Pour mixture over the pork, tossing to coat the pieces. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes while you heat the grill, or up to 24 hours. (We marinated for 24 hours to make sure all of that great flavor permeated the pork.)
When ready to cook, heat the grill or broiler with a rack positioned 4 inches from the heat source.
Thread the pork onto skewers, leaving a little space between cubes. Grill over the highest heat possible, or broil on high, for 2 to 5 minutes, then flip the skewers and continue cooking until the meat is browned all over and charred in spots. It should be just cooked through: A little pink is OK, but there shouldn’t be any red spots.
Serve the pork with cilantro sprigs and onion slices on top, and lime wedges on the side for squeezing.
Don’t use regular cucumbers; they contain a large amount of seeds that will quickly water down the salad, even if first salted to remove excess moisture. And don’t forget to peel the cucumbers. The skins will block the salt from drawing out the maximum amount liquid of from the watery flesh.
2 Medium garlic cloves, finely grated
2 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger
4 Tbsp. lime juice
1½ tsp. sriracha
½ tsp. white sugar
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 English cucumbers, trimmed and peeled
½ Cup roasted unsalted peanuts, finely chopped
4 Scallions, thinly sliced
1 Serrano chili, stemmed, halved, seeded and thinly sliced
½ Cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, finely chopped
In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, ginger, lime juice, Sriracha, sugar and ½ teaspoon salt. Set aside. Place the cucumbers on a cutting board. With the flat side of a chef’s knife or a rolling pin, hit the cucumbers until they split and crack. I used a meat mallet which worked great!
Slice the cucumbers ½-inch thick on the diagonal and transfer to a large colander set over a large bowl. Add 2 teaspoons salt and toss. Top with a plate smaller than the diameter of the colander; weigh down the plate with 2 or 3 cans. Let stand until liquid has pooled in the bowl, about 15 minutes. Discard the liquid, then rinse and dry the bowl.
In the same large bowl, combine the cucumbers, peanuts, scallions, chili and cilantro. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Taste and season with salt and pepper.