Simple Sides: Eggplant
While many of these recipes may seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will lay the culinary foundation necessary to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their confidence in the kitchen grows. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to decide the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where help might be especially needed.
The competing schedules of today’s busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can even be great fun. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach your children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your kids will build memories that remain in all of your hearts forever.
If your little ones insist that they do not like eggplant, here are two recipes guaranteed to change their minds with the one bite. Plus both are fun to make with something for everyone in the family to participate in no matter how young your kitchen helpers may be.
A great way to introduce kids to eggplant is a simple batter recipe that keeps the spices to a minimum and gives it a crunchiness that negates any “squishy” texture complaints that this veggie sometimes generates.
There are also a few good cooking lessons within this recipe. Letting a child handle the salting of any dish can be risky, however in this case a little extra salt in the initial prep of the eggplant rounds will only absorb more moisture and, oddly, does not seem to affect the taste. This salting needs to be done about 40 minutes before the actual cooking, so make this a before vs. after demo on the powers of salt and paper towels to absorb excess moisture.
While an older child can do the little bit of knife work involved in this simple recipe, any child can take part in the dredging of the slices through the egg and flour mixtures. Depending on the number of sous chefs in your kitchen, it’s fun to set up an assembly line for this part of the recipe. The one-armed chef process is also a good tip to teach your kids for this one and it’s a lesson they will carry with them into their own kitchens as adults. Meaning, ask them to use only one hand to handle the double dredging of the eggplant while keeping the other hand always clean. This leaves a free hand to handle other kitchen implements or, as always seems to happen in the middle of this kind of an operation, answer the phone!
Here’s another recipe that has tasks for everyone in the family to do. There is oven and stovetop work that is probably best left to the supervising adult in the room or possibly an older child under very close supervision. The little bit of basic chopping and dicing can also be done by an older helper, while the measuring, mixing and layering of the two parts of this dish can be accomplished by a child of any age. A mint sauce for a dish cooked in salsa may seem odd, but the combination of tastes really makes the dish. Put one child on sauce-making duty, so he or she can get the accolades that are sure to come when it is served. In fact, the tastiness of this sauce is the reason for the slightly excessive amount that appears in the dish picture for the article. Though the sauce is to be served on the side, family style, the flavor is so complimentary to the rest of the dish that everyone will have a tendency to slather on an extra little bit of this minty-lemony-garlicky delight. Call it a visual demonstration of what is sure to happen at your table as it did at my own during the taste test. Not to worry, it is basically just nutritious low-fat yogurt, so let your kids slather away!
Battered Eggplant with Pine Nuts & Oregano
1 large Italian eggplant, peeled & cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1½ cups rice flour (regular unbleached white flour, but rice flour is lighter)
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, course chopped
3 oz. Melissa’s Pine Nuts (fine chopped in food processor)
1 tsp salt (divided)
What kids can do:
- Peel and slice eggplant, under supervision.
- Cover a cookie sheet with sheets of paper towels.
- Lay eggplant slices on the paper towels and generously sprinkle salt onto the eggplant on both sides.
- Cover slices with another layer of paper towels. Repeat this layering until you are out of eggplant. Let eggplant slices sit for 30-40 minutes.
- Measure and chop oregano, under supervision.
- 6. Beat eggs with milk and ½ tsp of the salt and then pour into a large, flat bowl.
- Mix the oregano and the other ½ tsp. salt into the flour on a plate.
- When the oil is heated, press paper towels into the eggplant to soak up any extra liquid & salt.
- Dredge an eggplant slice in the flour mixture, shake off any excess flour and then dip the slice into the egg mixture to coat thoroughly, repeat this a second time (double dip!).
- Supervise the slicing of the eggplant or do it yourself.
- Pine nuts have a lot of oil in them so it can be tricky to chop them fine in a food processor, so this is best done by an adult; they should be resemble the dry cereal, grape nuts.
- Heat a frying pan on medium high. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom with a 1/4-inch of oil.
- Lay battered eggplant into the pan in batches that do not crowd the pan
- Fry each side until golden brown.
- When the pan starts to get too hot, just lower the heat.
- Serve immediately.
Spicy Rice and Eggplant Casserole
2 large Italian Eggplants, sliced in half-inch thick rounds
Olive oil or nonstick spray
¼ tsp each salt and pepper
1 medium Perfect Sweet onion, diced
6 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 jar (14 oz.) Melissa’s Fire-Roasted Salsa (use Mild)
½ cup currants (option – chopped raisins)
½ tsp each ground cinnamon
½ tsp cumin
1½ cup cooked brown rice
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 tsp Melissa’s Lemon Juice
1 tsp Melissa’s minced garlic
A pinch of each salt and pepper
What kids can do:
- After slicing the eggplant under supervision, place the slices in a large bowl and coat all sides with nonstick spray, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Dice and measure the onion and Roma tomatoes, under supervision
- Measure out cinnamon, cumin and rice
- In a large bowl combine tomatoes, rice, spices and salsa.
- Mint Sauce: Measure and mix all ingredients in a bowl, refrigerate until ready to serve
- Once the broiled eggplant slices have cooled, line a baking dish with half the eggplant.
- Once the rice mixture is ready, cover the eggplant with half of it.
- Repeat with another layer of eggplant and then cover with rice.
- Cook the brown rice ahead of time so it is ready when you are ready for the kids.
- Only you know the ability of your child to handle the knife work or do it yourself.
- Broil eggplant slices in batches about 4 inches from heat for 6 to 8 minutes each side until lightly browned and tender. Cool before letting the kids handle for layering process.
- Sauté the diced onions for 5 minutes in a large nonstick skillet with nonstick spray over medium heat.
- Stir in the rice mixture, cook until hot and thoroughly mixed.
- Once the kids have finished their layering, cover with foil and bake 30 minutes in a preheated 375° oven.
- Divide into individual servings and pass the mint sauce at the table.