I don’t know about you but there are times when I see certain fresh produce and don’t see food; I see art. I see the beauty of the shapes, the intensity of the colors, the amazing textures; it’s all so beautiful that I just want to take pictures or paint or do something to show off such exquisiteness. But I also see more art, the art of using each vegetable or fruit as a component of an even lovelier whole, the art of the finished product that is a delicious dish. This happens to me a lot at farmers markets, especially in the summertime when everything looks so lush and perfect. And it was definitely the case when I saw some simply gorgeous eggplants a few weeks ago.
Although I truly love eggplant, it’s another one of those items that I just haven’t gotten around to experimenting with in my own kitchen. Since the whole goal for 2009 has been to step outside my cooking comfort zone and work with different ingredients, I figured now was as good a time as any to start playing around with eggplant. For the past few weeks, my favorite farmers market under the freeway on 8th & X Streets has been offering some absolutely perfect looking eggplants, so beautiful that it seemed a shame to drown them in marinara sauce & cheese (even though eggplant parmagiana is a favorite of mine). They’ve also had some gorgeous zucchini and other squash, not to mention all the rest of my favorite vegetables and fruits. Since I still don’t feel like I’ve been getting enough veggies in my diet over the past few weeks, I came home after one of my recent farmers market forays and decided to make something with almost every vegetable I had, without resorting to a soup or stew. I wanted something a bit more substantial, something I could sink my teeth into. A sandwich, perhaps? Of course! I’d turn a big mountain of veggies into a delicious, breadless sandwich.
There was something about the eggplant that was begging to be the “bread” for the giant “sandwich” of vegetables I wanted to create, and with zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, and some crispy red onions, I knew the filling for this would be just perfect. This recipe is very simple to prepare and will allow you to thoroughly enjoy each vegetable’s individual flavor, as there is very minimal seasoning in this dish. A healthy & hearty dish, when served with a chunky tomato & herb sauce on the side, you might actually be able to convince the finicky eaters in your family to try some veggies.
The most important thing to note about this one is that you need a knife & fork for this! Just because it says “sandwich” doesn’t mean you can pick it up with both hands and start chowing down. Well, I suppose you could; just use a LOT of napkins if you do.
Grilled Eggplant & Veggie “Sandwiches” (serves 2; total cost per serving: $2.25)
4 1 ½” slices of fresh eggplant
1 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into ½” slices
1/4” thick red onion slice, separated into individual rings
10 white mushrooms, sliced
½ t minced garlic
1 T olive oil
Salt & pepper
2 T olive oil, for brushing
1/2 can diced tomatoes
1/4 t sea salt
1/4 t dried oregano
1/4 t dried basil
1/4 t dried rosemary
1/4 t ground black pepper
Prepare the chunky tomato sauce by combining the last 6 ingredients in a small saucepan and heating over medium low heat. Allow to simmer slowly for about five minutes, remove from heat, and set aside.
Preheat the grill. While grill is heating, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a separate pan over medium heat and add the garlic. Brown the garlic slightly then add the sliced mushrooms, seasoning lightly with salt & pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes, remove from heat and set aside.
Brush both sides of the eggplant and zucchini slices with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt & pepper (if desired). Grill the vegetables for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until tender but still firm.
To assemble your sandwiches, place one grilled eggplant slice on a plate, add zucchini, mushrooms, fresh onions, and a spoonful of chunky tomato sauce, followed by another slice of grilled eggplant. Serve with extra sauce on the side, a fork & knife and plenty of napkins, and enjoy!