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Yiayia’s Eggplant Keftethes

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Ichiban Eggplant on Plant
The glossy skin and deep color indicate that this Ichiban Japanese eggplant is ready to harvest.

By Renee Adam

I don’t think I’ve ever turned down a dish if it had eggplant in it. I enjoy eggplant just as much now as I did when I was a little girl! I guess it’s no surprise then to find out I planted several Ichiban Japanese eggplants in my veggie garden this year.

I was out in the garden this past Tuesday pruning the blooms off some herbs and trimming up my tomato vines when I noticed two really nice-sized eggplants ready to be picked. I missed seeing them earlier because their weight caused the stems to fall over, burying them in the overgrown flowers.

Their color was such a rich blackish-purple…in my book, something you can only find in nature. I know all the paint stores tell you to bring any color in and they can match it, but I bet they couldn’t duplicate the color of my eggplants, not to mention that natural sheen that makes them look like they’ve been basted with a light brush of olive oil.

See, the word eggplant makes me think of food right away. When I was a child, I was always drawn to practically any dish my mom made with eggplant: moussaka, stuffed eggplant, eggplant parmigiana, battered and fried eggplant, eggplant tempura, etc. (I feel like Bubba Gump talking about my eggplant dishes!).

Out of my three girls, two of the three love eggplant, too (and two out of three “ain’t bad”). So, getting back to these two ripe Ichiban eggplants…to make sure an eggplant is ready to pick and eat, press the sides gently. If the imprint remains visible then it’s ready to eat. Also, remember that natural sheen I mentioned before? Glossy skin means they’re ready to be picked. If the fruits turn dull, they’re over-ripe. (Bonnie Plants can tell you more about how to grow and harvest eggplant.)

My eight-year-old daughter, Harriette, had a great idea about these eggplants. She said, “Let’s pick these and make Yiayia’s eggplant keftethes!” Translation…Yiayia is Greek for grandmother (I’m Greek) and keftethes are miniature hamburgers mixed with a variety of herbs and bread crumbs and fried to perfection. However, my mother, a.k.a. Yiayia, made up a new recipe over Lent a few years ago that substitutes the hamburger meat with eggplant. We eat these year-round (Harriette’s not a big meat eater).

Great idea…eggplant keftethes! We picked the eggplants (they passed the imprint test), but these two eggplants weren’t enough to feed our family of five, so I had to buy a couple more from the local grocer. And even better, with this recipe we get to include mint and parsley from our herb bed and an egg from our chicken coop (love that!). I hope you give this recipe a try…enjoy!!

Yiayia’s Eggplant Keftethes

4-6 Eggplants (I prefer the Ichiban Japanese kind but you can also use the larger Black Beauty variety)
1 small sweet onion
15-20 mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped Flat Italian parsley
1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup flour
Safflower or Grape seed oil

Peel and cut eggplants into quarter-sized chunks, place in pot of water covering eggplant and boil until soft/mushy. Place eggplant in colander and drain. Using a large spoon, press as much water as possible out of the cooked eggplant.

Chop onion and mint leaves and toss with parsley in the mixing bowl. Add the drained eggplant, breadcrumbs, egg, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix all ingredients well.

Place flour on a sheet of waxed parchment paper. Take one heaping tablespoon of the eggplant mixture and roll it in the flour, making a small round patty. Prep as many of these as possible.

In a large skillet, add safflower or grape seed oil in the bottom of the pan (oil should be about 1/4 inch deep in pan). Let the oil heat for about 3-5 minutes until it reaches 350 to 375 degrees F (frying temp), and place flour-covered patties in skillet. Cook until golden brown on both sides. Enjoy!