Italian grilled eggplant: easy, tasty and budget friendly

     

    Italian grilled eggplant

     

    Time:         prep. 5 mins
                       cook. 20 mins
    Difficulty:  very easy
    Yields:       2 portions
    Cost:          low

     

    Italian grilled eggplant is one of summer’s most beloved side dishes: quick and great to prepare in advance, they satiate you with grand charm without being caloric; plus, if eaten in season, they are very cheap. And extremely versatile: for example, in this recipe I propose them as a side dish, but in reality Italian grilled eggplant can already constitute an appetizer; or as a condiment for a pasta or a barley salad or they can become a mouth-watering base for a protein filling and thus a compelling main course.

    Lately I have been cooking them a lot, since again I have moved into a not very well-equipped rental house, where by the way I cannot dedicate much time for cooking. However since I feel the need of preparing all the meals myself, here are Italian grilled eggplants in general coming to my pleasant rescue: healthy, delicious and practical. It must be said, however, that eggplants in particular offer so much more!
    Rich in folic acid (Vit B6) and antioxidants (eggplant is among the 10 foods with the highest levels of ORAC – Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity)[1], fiber, minerals (magnesium, copper, phosphorus and potassium).
    They also contain very few carbohydrates and calories: but it is up to us whether to keep them light even after cooking.
    Eggplants in fact behave like a sponge, absorbing every drop of oil poured on their surface. This phenomenon becomes evident with frying, nevertheless it affects all kinds of cooking: their cellular structure consists of small air pockets with an incredible ability to store oil as soon as they come into contact with it.
    Sure, oil-soaked eggplant tastes great… except that this translates into a ‘high calorie mountain‘: about 220 g of fried eggplant contains 28 g of oil and 475 kcal, far more than a plate of creamy pasta; calories that the body is great at storing as fatty tissue.
    Fortunately, we can use a few tricks to limit the damage, such as dredging the eggplant slices in egg or flour.

    Yet the ones I would like to suggest are definitely healthier and more sustainable:

    – Generate osmotic dehydration by applying salt[2]

    As I explained in the recipe for Turkish-style stuffed eggplant, the traditional preparation of eggplant should always begin by sprinkling it with salt so that the bitter water can come out. Said technique, although it has lost its usefulness today (eggplants are not as bitter as they used to be), comes in handy to reduce the oil absorbed during cooking. With osmotic dehydration, cell structure deforms, as does the ability to retain oil.

    – Generating dehydration with the microwave oven

    Baking the slices for a few minutes in a microwave oven, or on the grill function in a conventional oven, will limit their absorption capacity, reducing the eggplant’s moisture and dehydrating said cells.

    – Preferring recipes that can enhance flavor even with little oil

    This is the reason of this Italian grilled eggplant recipe; despite the little oil applied through a kitchen brush, or a spray (atomizer), so that the slices are evenly greased, the end result will be surprising: eggplant will be both delicious and light.
     

    Ingredients for Italian grilled eggplant

    1 large eggplant
    2 cherry tomatoes
    about ten basil leaves
    1/2 clove of garlic
    1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
    2 tablespoons of evo oil
    salt to taste
    chili pepper (optional)

    Directions

    Nothing could be easier than preparing Italian grilled eggplant; but to make it divinely, a few simple tricks must be observed: one of them is to cut the eggplant to the same right height.
    The cut can be made vertically, horizontally or even diagonally; the important thing is to observe the same height for all slices, so that they are evenly cooked. And it should neither be too thin (if so, you get
    scorched eggplant chips effect), nor too thick (otherwise the cooking time would increase, with no guarantee of homogeneity of the same): I’m fine with 0.7 to 1 cm height.
    After cutting them, apply evo oil with a brush and then arrange the slices on a frying pan, or a steak pan, or on a grill.

    In case you have a microwave oven at home, using it for 5 minutes with the eggplant slices already cut will reduce the cooking time and, as mentioned earlier, the oil absorption capacity.

    All you need to do now is to cook them.
    In a skillet, or grill pan, it takes about 10-15 minutes (halfway through, the slices should be flipped over).
    With the oven about 20-25 minutes at 180 degrees; in the grill function, about 15-20 minutes.

    I often suggest optimizing the use of the oven for energy saving purposes, and well this would be an excellent opportunity; let’s say you want to make bread (or something else), take advantage of it to bake eggplant as well: more capacity and certainty of even baking; but of course, when you don’t plan to turn it on, or perhaps you are in a hurry, better to use a simple frying pan.

    While the eggplant is cooking, finely chop the garlic and cherry tomatoes and add them together with the vinegar and salt, so that the grilled eggplant slices are flavored at the end of cooking.
    Serve them hot or even cold the next day; however, in case you want to consume them a few days after cooking, I recommend not seasoning them until the time of serving (better a few hours before).

    Smart combos

    Prepared this way, Italian grilled eggplants are an easy and light side dish that retains the quintessence of the Mediterranean; therefore, they are ideal to pair with a rich main course, such as meatless quinoa meatballs with a Mediterranean heart, or with a delicious farinata (Italian Chickpea pizza).
    And when you want to use them as a main course, before adding the seasoning with tomatoes, garlic and vinegar simply drown them in a tomato sauce prepared like this and then enrich them with a stringy cheese.

    Italian grilled eggplant with tomato and cheese

    The truth is that with Italian grilled eggplant you always win, especially if you have little time or a tight budget.

    Enjoy your meal and good revolution to all

     

    Bibliography
    1) Colak, N.; Kurt-Celebi, A.; Gruz, J.; Strnad, M.; Hayirlioglu-Ayaz, S.; Choung, M.-G.; Esatbeyoglu, T.; Ayaz, F.A. The Phenolics and Antioxidant Properties of Black and Purple versus White Eggplant Cultivars. Molecules 2022, 27, 2410. https://doi.org/10.3390/
    molecules27082410
    2) Jokar, A., A. Parsaii, and N. Maftoonazad. “Oil absorption reduction of eggplant slices during deep fat frying by applying osmotic dehydration pretreatment.” Iranian Journal of Nutrition Sciences & Food Technology 15.1 (2020): 59-70

     

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