Smile Politely

Enjoying eggplant easier than imagined

My friend Jacqueline Hannah has been pondering of late how people arrive from eating out of boxes and cans to cooking whole foods. Certainly this is part and parcel of eating more locally and more economically, but not everyone is prepared to jump feet first.

In the “Eating Healthy on a Budget” classes she teaches at Common Ground Food Co-op in Urbana, Jacqueline says she frequently has students tell her that their families never eat beans and wouldn’t touch brown rice, despite how economical and healthful these foods are.

Jacqueline recognizes that no matter how much people say they want to incorporate healthier foods into their diet, actually doing so can be difficult. Food is part of culture and breaking with the patterns and traditions of one’s family and friends isn’t always easy.

If I needed proof of this, I saw it at a reunion with my father’s family on Sunday. The picnic tables were loaded with homemade fried chicken, potatoes au gratin, chicken and noodles, meatballs, meatloaf, sliced tomatoes, brownies, and pie. They looked nearly the same as they had for the last 35 years. It didn’t matter that it was 90 degrees. It didn’t matter that many of the people attending suffer from hypertension and diabetes — this was their tradition.

Despite my father’s family’s penchant for meat and potatoes, my mother’s family believed in eating their vegetables. As young women, she and her sisters had worked in Greek and Italian restaurants in Chicago, and developed a taste for Chinese food, as well. Vegetables weren’t just plate decorations at our table and with over five acres of them, not eating them wasn’t an option.

In summer, we never sat down to dinner with less than three vegetables on the table. It didn’t occur to me that other people didn’t eat this way until college. Though I shouldn’t be, I am always surprised when people tell me they’ve never tried certain vegetables, or that they have tried them prepared one way and written them off.

This recipe for eggplant keeps it from getting slimy or mushy which are the two most common reasons people give for not eating it. Steam sauteing the garlic tames it and keeps the sauce from becoming overwhelming. Make sure the oil is hot to keep the eggplant breading from becoming soggy.

Eggplant Fans with Tomato, Basil, Garlic Salsa


  • 1 clove garlic finely sliced
  • 2 T water
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • 1 T finely slivered basil leaves
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/8 t fresh ground black pepper

Heat a skillet. Add garlic. Wait 10 seconds and then pour water over top. When water has evaporated, remove garlic from pan. Place in a bowl. Core tomatoes. Cut in half horizontally and gently squeeze out seeds. Chop into 1/4-inch pieces. Toss with remaining ingredients. Set aside for 15 minutes to develop flavors.

Eggplant fans

  • 4 small Asian eggplants (about 6 inches long)
  • 1/2 c dry bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 t dried basil
  • 1/8 t dried oregano
  • salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 T canola oil for sauteing

Cut off top of egg plant just below cap. To make the eggplant fans, lay an eggplant on its side. Poke a sharp paring knife 1/2 inch below the top of the fruit. Make a slit lengthwise cutting through the bottom. Repeat spacing slits about ¼-inch apart until you have made 3 to 6 cuts. These are the fan blades. With your hand, flatten the eggplant slightly by pressing gently on the top and forcing the blades a part to help it cook evenly. Sprinkle eggplant with salt, pepper, and herbs. Allow to rest 15 minutes for the salt to draw out moisture. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Beat eggs in a small shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Place bread crumbs in another similar bowl (add additional oregano and basil if desired). Dip eggplant into beaten egg and then into bread crumbs. Saute in oil until lightly brown. Add additional oil if skillet is dry. Saute other side. To serve, place eggplant fan on plate and spoon sauce over top.

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