The Power of Purple: Cooking With Color

eggplant
With Team Purple in the Final Four (Hannah and Olivia were the first couple to make it together) on The Biggest Loser this week, what better time to address the power of purple food? A favorite around the Ranch, for many reasons, has long been eggplant.

Though they’re found in a myriad of colors and sizes, most of the eggplant we see in the market are deep purple in color and oblong in shape. The purplish skin is indicative of the presence of anthocyanins. These powerful antioxidants can help lower the risk of a number of different cancers as well as support memory function and can also be found in relatively high amounts in açaí, black currants, and raspberries and blueberries. (All that, and did you know “purple” even has its own website?)

But that’s not the only reason to savor eggplant. This versatile veggie is 95% water, which means it doesn’t have an awful lot of calories. For example, a 1 1/4 pound eggplant yields about 5 cups of uncooked eggplant with just over 100 calories.

You won’t want to eat it raw, however — it can be very bitter. Everything changes when it’s cooked, though. Baked, broiled, grilled, sautéed — even microwaved; a little cooking yields a tender, almost creamy texture. Some like to salt their eggplant before cooking it, which neutralizes acidic flavors and also draws out water, making the flesh seem meatier.

When shopping for eggplant, look for smooth skin that yields slightly to pressure, but bounces back. Eggplants have a dimple at the blossom end that can be round or oval in shape. An oval dimple is usually shallower, and is often indicative of fewer seeds and a meatier, more desirable eggplant. A round, deeper dimple frequently indicates many seeds inside, especially if the eggplant is large and mature. Fresh eggplants, which yield optimal flavor, should seem heavy for their size. For this reason, it’s best to cook them as soon as possible.

Its neutral flavor profile means that eggplant combines well with other vegetables and seasonings. The following ratatouille recipe from Flavor First is a perfect example.

Smoky Ratatouille with Spicy Sausage
Ratatouille is a classic Provencal dish consisting of slowly simmered eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and fresh herbs. In this rendition, these traditional ingredients are first cooked on the grill to impart a smoky flavor. The addition of spicy sausage completes the flavor profile and makes this dish feel rich and satisfying.

Makes 4 servings

2 (4-ounce) links spicy Italian turkey sausage
3 zucchini (yellow or green), cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 medium white or red onion, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rings
1 eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 red, yellow, or green bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch squares
1 (14.5-ounce) cans no-salt-added fire-roasted diced tomatoes (see note)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and ground black pepper (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, for garnish

Note: You can substitute 1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes (yellow or red) for the fire-roasted tomatoes. Grill fresh tomatoes on skewers, carefully turning, until they are softened and the skins just begin to split.

Remove the sausage meat from the casings. Cook in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until there is no more pink. Drain well, crumble, and set aside.

Prepare a grill and heat to medium-high heat (when the fire is ready you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack for no longer than 3 to 4 seconds). Insert a toothpick horizontally through each onion slice going through all the rings to the center to hold the slices intact. Lightly coat the onion, zucchini, and eggplant with olive oil cooking spray. Grill the vegetables on the grill rack, turning once, until done, about 4 minutes total. (Onions may take longer.)

When cool enough to handle, cut the grilled vegetables into 1/2-inch dice and transfer to a bowl. Add the roasted pepper, tomatoes, lemon zest, basil, and thyme. Stir in the sausage. Season with salt and black pepper, if desired. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the parsley.

Per serving: 170 calories, 6 g total fat (1.5 g saturated), 35 mg cholesterol, 389 mg sodium, 21 g total carbohydrates (11 g sugars), 8 g fiber, 12 g protein

© Cheryl Forberg 2016