Eggplant Jack

Baked Eggplant Pepper Jack!

Eggplant is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat. It is also called aubergine (in French) or where I grew up in India, it was brinjal. Unfortunately for my health, when I was young eggplant was the one vegetable I hated with a passion.

I went to a full-day school in India, where we were served a nice, balanced lunch made up of daal, roti, rice, vegetables, lentils, and yogurt — every day! This was no Hogwart’s Dining Hall, but the food was great. Among the vegetable dishes, you could be assured that you were going to get eggplant at least once per week. Complicating matters: you had to eat it! Until the 6th grade, there were teachers eating at every table to make sure you ate all you were served!

They even checked our thalis — stainless steel dishes — before we bussed them out to the washing area. What could we do? Some of my eggplant-hating gang and I would try to hide our eggplants under an upside down bowl and sneak them out. BUT BUT BUT — if the teacher decided to turn the bowl around, and if she saw what you were not going to eat, you were made to stand there and eat the eggplant all by itself! Oh, it was torture! It happened to me once and I learnt my lesson. Better to eat your eggplant alongside the rest of lunch.

Even back then, I did sometimes eat my eggplant and liked it. My mom was sneaky: she cooked and blended eggplant into our dishes so we wouldn’t recognize it. Those days are gone now. I have come to love the once-most-dreaded purple vegetable.

There was always good reason to eat eggplant, of course. It is rich in fiber, iron, and compounds called terpenes which lower your cholesterol. Most of its nutrition is in its skin. I have called eggplant a vegetable all my life because we eat it like a vegetable, but it’s interesting to know that biologically, eggplant is not only a fruit but in fact it is a berry!

The most common way eggplant is eaten in America is unfortunately not the best for you. Eggplant Parmesan is the most common dish, but the eggplant is usually drenched in egg, then deep fried, and then over-loaded with mozzarella. It is of course OK to use some cheese, but if you also want to enjoy the flavor of the eggplant, avoid the breading and frying that cover it up. As you know, I do not fry my food, so I came up with this wonderful baked dish, Eggplant Jack. Below is my simple recipe:

Ipheion Uniflora ~ Spring Star Flowers

I used:

1 big, purple, bell shaped eggplant (I don’t know the variety’s name, but when picking one out it should be light in weight for the least seeds, and make sure it’s a male. It will also be less bitter!)

1/2 cup grated pepper jack cheese

2 big cloves minced garlic

2 tbsns extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

My method:

1. Turn the oven to 350 F (175 C).
2. Slice the cleaned eggplant into 1″ thick cylindrical slices.
3. Drizzle olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss. There is no need to salt the eggplant and drain it in traditional way, if you are using it right after slicing.
4. Press the minced garlic into the crevices of each slice. As it cooks, the flavor will be infused and the garlic will not burn.
5. Lay the slices flat in a foil-lined baking tray, and bake for about 20 minutes, or till they smell and look slightly wrinkled & brown.
6. Sprinkle on the cheese and bake for a few more minutes, just till the cheese melts.
7. Enjoy it as an appetizer or as a side to your meal.

Ipheion Uniflora ~ Spring Star Flower