Eggplant comes in a variety of colors and shapes, but use one like this Black Beauty variety. It is the perfect size and shape for stuffing. File photo.

Today’s vegetable in abundance in the garden is eggplant, one of the prettiest things to come out of the ground and one of the most versatile veggies to cook with. From dips to salads to the main attraction, eggplant can do it all.

In French cookbooks, you’ll find this vegetable called aubergine. Eggplants belong to the nightshade plant family, which includes the tomato, bell pepper and potato, so it should come as no surprise that these vegetables are delicious when combined in a casserole.

Eggplants grow in a manner much like tomatoes, hanging from vines of a plant that grows several feet in height. My favorite variety is the deep purple egg-shaped eggplant, but it comes in other shapes and colors, ranging from a creamy white to lavender, pencil thin and long to small and bulbous.

Wild eggplant is thought to have spread from India to China and Africa, then to Italy, whose cooks know how to make the best of it. Today, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, China and Japan are the leading growers of eggplant.

Eggplants should be firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny. An eggplant is ripe when it springs back after pressing the skin with your finger.

To roast eggplant whole, poke it with a fork to allow the steam to escape. Bake at 350 F for 15 to 25 minutes, depending upon size. Use homemade baba ganoush as a dip for vegetables or as a sandwich filling.

Baba Ganoush

  • 1 large roasted eggplant
  • Fresh squeezed juice from one lemon
  • 1/3 cup Tahini
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ tsp. salt

Scoop out the flesh of the eggplant, discarding the skin. Place in food processor with remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.

Mediterranean Salad

Serves 2

The salad:

  • 3 cups assorted salad greens
  • 1/4 cup sliced black olives
  • 1/4 cup diced feta cheese
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thin

Arrange the greens on two diner plates. For each plate, arrange half of the olives, cheese and onion.

On the grill:

  • 4 skewers, presoaked, if wood
  • 6 oz. lamb, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Half an eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • sprig of fresh mint
  • sprig of fresh sage

Peel eggplant, cut into pieces, arrange on paper towel and sprinkle with salt. This draws out some of the water –not so important when you grill the eggplant, but in other dishes it prevents the dish from getting too watery.     

On four skewers, alternate the lamb and eggplant until all is used. Brush the skewers with some of the dressing. Chop the fresh mint and sprinkle on top of the skewers. Add the sage to the grill fire just before cooking the skewers – this adds a nice flavor as it cooks. Cook on the grill just till lamb is done, about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on flame. Brush the skewers with the dressing at least once more and turn to cook on both sides. 

Arrange the skewers on the salads and serve with dressing.

The dressing:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. marjorum, crushed
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To make the dressing: combine all ingredients. Before using, shake or whisk together. Keep refrigerated.

By Lynn Greene

Wisconsin author Lynn Greene has written "Lynn's Place" for numerous publications over the years in Wisconsin. She now shares her insights and recipes here.