September 22, 2010

Smashed Eggplant Sandwiches

I can honestly say I never ate eggplant before I joined the Peace Corps. The only recipe I had ever heard it used in was eggplant parmesan. It appealed to me, but I still never ordered it at a restaurant. I know most people are the same. They don’t know how to cook it nor think it takes very good. At my flat in Fiji, I was blessed with four eggplant bushes in my yard. I could pick it every day and would still have some leftover. Eggplant was frequently curried by the Indo-Indians and fried by the Fijians. I began to love eggplant and started cooking other dishes with it.

I went to the Bluegrass Farmer’s Market yesterday for the first time. It’s located on Richmond Road in the Pedal Power parking lot which is right across from my work. There were only 3 tents set up but I was pleased with what I found. I bought mushrooms, green peppers, eggplants, and white raspberries. The farmer selling the eggplant asked me how I was going to cook the eggplant. I told her my many recipes and different ways to prepare it. She grows it and doesn’t even cook with it, it amazed me. I loved sharing my recipes and I even shared some of my Peace Corps experience. She definitely didn’t want to stop talking. I pulled myself away and jetted home to make my eggplant and mozzarella smashed sandwiches for my date that night.

Smashed Eggplant and Mozzarella Sandwiches with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
(2 servings)

1 large eggplant
1 block mozzarella cheese
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes (I didn’t buy oil-packed but it works)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 fist-full of fresh basil, chopped
2 whole wheat baguettes
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Salt and Pepper

Eggplant can be bitter, so it’s always a good habit to salt the slices and let the bitter juices come out before cooking. Slice the eggplants into ½ inch pieces. Salt both side and set aside. After 15 minutes, rinse and pat dry. Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Heat a grill or in my case, a George Foreman. Spray both sides of the grill with olive oil and place the slices on. Let cook for 5 minutes or until eggplant is squishy. Remove from grill. The tomatoes should be re-hydrated now. Remove from water and squeeze out excess water. Put the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic cloves, and 2 glugs of EVOO in a food processor and process until it forms a thick paste. Add salt, pepper, and the basil and pulse several times more. Place aside. Shred the mozzarella and slice the baguettes. Smear the sun-dried tomato pesto on each side of the bread. Place the cheese and cooked eggplant in between. Smash with your hand. Put the entire sandwich back on the GF and close. I then put a cast iron pan on top to smash it even more. (This is my version of a Panini press.) Cook for 1-2 minutes.

I hope this recipe gives you the guts to try eggplant sometime! Please let me know if you do.

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