It is hot in Georgia in July. And August. And half of September. So needless to say, weekend cooking comes to a near-halt during the dog days of a southern summer. Not to say that stove top cooking ends. But sauteing eggs is done quick and microwave poached eggs are best.
The heavy heat means the heavy foods can wait until fall and winter. I eat Salads, humm
us, sandwiches, cold antipastos.
However I do make some stove top things. I got some tamarind sauce and rice noodles recently and made a pad thai for the first time in a long time. Boy, I love that dish. I like the rice noodles because as an alternative to boiling noodles (or rice as in other Asian dishes), Pad Thai noodles can be soaked in cold water till soft, then flash sauted at the end. Since rice noodles are made with rice flour they are a good choice for those who are gluten intolerant. As always, read the package to be sure it’s not got additives to which you will be sensitive.
I used this recipe: http://rasamalaysia.com/pad-thai/ . Yum! It’s a quick and filling stove-top dish. Since shrimp are expensive for me, I leave them out and just rely on the tofu and the egg for protein. Since sprouts are hard to find, I use more scallions.
Once in a while I need to use the oven to make a more substantial dish. It’s veggie-garden season and I love to take advantage of the bounty. A friend at church had brought in some bounty from her garden, and gave me some eggplants. I had already bought two eggplants the other day. But you can never have enough eggplants! And garden fresh is a luscious opportunity I cannot pass up.
Many people around here do not know what to do with eggplants except make friend eggplant parmigiana. I like that too but i hate to make it. Others use the eggplant rounds to make a Stack, here is Mario Batali’s Eggplant Stack recipe.
Two other ways I offer as considerations for your eggplant enjoyment are Caponata and Baked Crispy Eggplant.
I decided to use the garden eggplants in a bake, and the older store bought eggplants for caponata. Caponata is a Sicilian recipe that is complicated and uses some luxury ingredients like fresh olives, capers, and pine nuts. I don’t often have those particular ingredients on hand so I skip them. Some recipes call for roasting the eggplant or frying it first. Again, I skip. Here is one example of a traditional caponata recipe: Sicilian Caponata
Caponata also uses vinegar but I skip that too, lol. The finished dish can be used in sauces with pasta, or as a topping on Italian bruschetta, or as a vegetable side dish by itself.
What I do is saute the onion, and when they are soft, I throw in the celery. Whey they are soft, I throw in the eggplant, which I’d cubed small. Let that dwindle down covered on medium heat. I use oil but also some apple juice if I have it on hand. If not, then add water if you’re watching the fat content, just so the eggplant won’t stick.
Sometimes if I have enough tomatoes, I add those. If not, then later when I’m ready to eat it I add tomato sauce. Or not. Caponata is versatile! Add salt and pepper to taste, and since I am a Philistine, I add canned black olives, lol. Voila, a fast way to use a lot of eggplants.
The baked eggplant recipe I used is here, Crispy Baked Eggplant. I like this recipe because it is simple and uses few ingredients. Also, it takes less time in the hot oven than Eggplant Parmigiana. That’s always good! Remember, this essay is called ‘frugal cooking’. If the eggplant is really fresh I don’t think it needs to be salted, wait, press to drain, and all those steps. I like to save steps. Again, frugal cooking means not only using few or inexpensive ingredients but also saving time. Time is money too. The older eggplant had a higher water content so that is why I decided to use them for the caponata, which needs moisture as it cooks. To make crispy eggplant, less water is better, so normally if you get store eggplant that has been around a while then do go thru the process of getting rid of the water content by salting and pressing..
I keep the skins on the baked eggplant, because that holds it together better. For the sauteed caponata, I stripped the purple skin off because I want it to break down.
Aren’t these garden eggplants cute! And beautiful! They are a deep purple, nicely shaped, and firm.
Cutting the rounds. The skin-on will be baked. Cut 1/2 inch to 1/4 inch. Thicker, and it won’t bake through before burning, thinner and it won’t hold the egg/bread crumb mixture.
I scrambled two eggs with a bit of water in one bowl, and in another poured a mound of bread crumbs. I dragged one round through the egg mixture, using my fingers. If you use a fork or knife it will puncture the skin and the eggplant won’t be as crispy since the liquid will seep into it.
I cooked according to the recipe. When they were done I took them out and tested one. Crunch!
The frugal part: in addition to choosing recipes that use fewer ingredients, or a shorter cooking time (electricity costs more on weekends), or using what I have in the fridge already, or accepting a gift of veggies even though I already had some veggies but I knew I’d use them… if you’re going to turn the oven on during a hot day, don’t turn it on for one item only! STUFF the oven. So I used up some squash I’d had rolling around the bottom of the veggie tray. They were rolling around because they had very thick skins and those take a long time to saute. If the oven was going to be on I might as well put some more in it to have on hand for later in the week when it’s supposed to be even HOTTER. In went the thick-skinned yellow squash.
The green are Poblano peppers my friend gave me in addition to the eggplants. At the bottom of the photo are pita bread triangles. I wiped the top of some whole wheat pita bread rounds with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt, and cut them into triangles to make pita crisps. They will be holding hummus later this week. I also put into the oven a few potatoes washed and encased in tin foil for baking, again to have later this week to make potato salad or home fries. I could squeeze them in between the baking trays. Voila, a stuffed oven!
Between the oven being on and the stove top pot containing simmering eggplant for caponata, it got hot in the kitchen. One of the potatoes being baked was quite a bit larger than the other really small ones, and it was taking forever to finish. I could not take the heat any more so I turned off the oven and kept the door shut. The residual heat would finish baking the potato. I do this on the stove top as well, turning the burner off a few minutes before the item is completely done, and letting the residual heat take care of the finish. I got this tip from Clara Cannucciari of Great Depression Cooking. “Anything to save anything” she had said.
One last tip. I started early when the day was cooler. I don’t like to work a lot in the morning, preferring to do my chores in the PM after I’ve studied my Bible and read my theology books and had my coffee. All the important things,you know. LOL. But with the temps predicted to rise quite high, and it happens fast once the sun is up, I began at around 7:00am and finished at 8:30, and that included washing the pans. This gave the apartment a bit of time to cool down and the oven to return to its resting state before the sun came up over the trees and began to heat up my apartment. As it was, I heard the AC click on higher fan setting about a minute after I opened the oven each time. Ugh. So start early and get it done, why ask your AC to cool the hot air you asked the oven to provide?
So that was the morning! For lunch I plan to have a green salad and caponata on Italian toasted rounds, topped with Parmesan cheese. Abbondanza!