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Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Freezing eggplant (Πως να σηντηρείτε μελιτζάνες στην κατάψυξη)

UPDATE 15/08/2012: THIS IS MY MOST POPULAR POST THIS MONTH - AND I STILL FREEZE EGGPLANT THIS WAY

We grow as much as we can in our garden - well, actually yiayia used to grown things in the garden, while we mainly harvested the crops and ate them fresh or preserved whatever we didn't eat by freezing the cooked or raw products. We are now at the beginning of February, and we have a lot of greens in the garden; mainly winter crops such as cauliflower, cabbage, dandelion, parsley, celery and radish, as well as some stray summer crops like aubergines and tomatoes which have been fooled by the good weather to keep on producing. Aubergines seem to be the hardiest of these plants, and they have become an indispensable part of my Cretan kitchen in the summer. I have become somewhat of a self-professed expert on how to make full use of these purple beauties, unlike some of my acquaintances.

Aglaia's knowledge of food is limited to what she reads (only Greek books, and never from the internet), and who she asks for advice (her mother and her civil servant work colleagues); as for her cooking, it's even more restricted because she teaches during the day, and then spends her afternoons ferrying her children to their various extra-curricular cla
sses. She is fanatically pro-organic, but if she doesn't have any time to cook, I can't understand what she feeds her family on, given that organic food is usually, I beg your pardon, ALWAYS unprocessed and needs a great deal of time in terms of preparation to get it onto the dinner plate; I've seen Aglaia in souvlaki shops, and she does keep a deep freeze full of pizzas, but I wouldn't call those food items that she has in her house organic.

So I wasn't surprised when she told me that, despite the abundance of eggplant in the garden (which of course her husband tends, as she believes, and I quote, that gardening is men's work, even though she confessed that her husband irons his own clothes because - you guessed it - she's just too busy), she doesn
't use it much in her cooking because it doesn't freeze at all. I didn't like this at all business, especially since I freeze aubergine successfully, if I may so myself.

So Aglaia, if you ever chance to use the internet one day (maybe when someone else invites you to look something up in it), or someone refers you to my website (fat chance, none of your friends, colleagues or acquaintances read English, never mind speak the language), this post has been written especially with you in mind; yes, you CAN freeze eggplant.

Aubergine (eggplant) is one of those vegetables which you don't eat very often; it needs a special cooking style, or isn't quite so suitable in terms of taste and texture to be added to common dishes. It's often used to make a specific dish, say eggplant parmesan, or moussaka. But if you grow it in the garden, you can freeze it by using a variety of methods so that you can enjoy its freshness in the winter without any loss of flavour, colour or texture. The main problem with aubergine is that if it isn't used within a particular period of time, it turns brown, and looks very unappetising. So, if you want to freeze it, this should be done when it is at its freshest. Aubergine is used in slices, cubed, or as a shelled vegetable suitable for filling with a variety of meat or vegetarian fillings. It should be frozen in exactly the same way as you would be using it. Never freeze it whole; to use it, you would need to defrost it, and it would simply become a soggy brown sponge.

Aubergines come in many shapes, colours and sizes. The ones grown commercially in Greece are the long or round purple variety (or a mixture of mottled purple and white), but we have also grown white eggplant, which comes in a squat round shape, and is a little sweeter than the purple variety. The white variety is eaten mainly in fried slices. It can be used in exactly the same way as purple eggplant, but it loses its whiteness both in the freezer and after it is cooked. In other countries (eg India and Thailand), aubergine is as small as a brussel sprout, or has a different colour; I've only seen these varieties in pictures, but they look interesting, and apparently taste much like the European variety, so their appearance is quite deceptive.

Other vegetables can also be frozen in the same way as aubergine; I have applied some (or all) of the techniques described below to courgettes (zucchini), bell peppers and tomatos. The bonus with tomatos is that their flesh can also be pureed and frozen for later use in a sauce or casserole.

SLICES
Raw:
Once you have cleaned the aubergine, slice it into rounds. Make sure the aubergine is dry when you place it in the freezer in separate layers. Separate the layers with wrap (I use clean plastic supermarket carrier bags - it's a way of recycling them). Once the slices have frozen solid, they can be packed altogether in a plastic bag. When you want to use it, don't let it defrost. Use it straight from the freezer. If you want to fry or boil it, do this BEFORE you freeze it (see below). The same process described can be used for aubergine cubes.

Boiled: Aubergines are often tossed into boiling water for five minutes, to rid them of their bitterness. The aubergine I freeze is always from our own crop (why bother to freeze it if you can get it 'fresh' all year round?) and it's never bitter, possibly because of the soil and the kind of fertiliser we use. If you do want to blanch the aubergine before freezing it, make sure it is at its freshest, and dry it well before you put it in the freezer. The less moisture, the better the results.

Fried: When I freeze aubergine in slices, it is always fried. In this way, I can use it as it is in eggplant parmesan or moussaka, without worrying about whether it will defrost too quickly, or add too much liquid in the food I am preparing. Fry the slices of fresh aubergine and drain them well on absorbent paper. Then put them in separate layers in the deep freeze in the same way as for raw slices (see above).


Oven-roasted: This is a healthier altenative to frying aubergine. Place the slices on an oiled oven tray and brush them on the top with olive oil. Let them roast till they are partly cooked. Once they have cooled down, freeze them in separate layers, as for blanched or fried slices.

SHELLS
Aubergine is often used as a shelled vegetable; the flesh of the aubergine is spooned out and the remaining shell is filled with various mixtures. These shells can be frozen raw as for yemista, or fired and filled as for papoutsakia. It isn't advisable to freeze empty fried (or blanched) shell, because once they are cooked in this way, they lose their shape. It is very difficult to fill them neatly once they are frozen lopsidedly! Once the shells are filled, they are cooked in the oven; frying them is difficult because you can't secure the filling easily. Because eggplant comes in different shapes and sizes, you need to shell accordingly.


Round variety: Round eggplant vary in size. If they are as large as a tennis ball, slice off the top, so that the stalk and leaves have been removed, and the exposed flesh is white, not green. Then take a spoon and remove the white flesh. he flesh is discarded; in any case, this is what goes brown very quickly. Take care not to break through the skin. When you have done this, freeze them as quickly as possible, to stop them from turning brown too quickly. If they are larger than a tennis ball (and probably rounder, too), cut them in half lengthwise, so that each half contains part of the stalk. Then spoon out the flesh and proceed as described above.


Long variety: Long eggplant usually have a more slender shape. To shell this kind of aubergine, slice off the stalk as for the round variety, then slice off a little of the skin towards the centre of one long side of the aubergine. When you remove the flesh from this incision, it will take on the shape of a boat. Freeze them raw. If you want to fry and freeze them, you must also fill them, otherwise they lose their shape.


frozen eggplant chunks
Cubed eggplant makes a great comfort meal in the winter: eggplant risotto.
 
MORE AUBERGINE (EGGPLANT) RECIPES:
We eat quite a lot of aubergine throughout the year. Here is a list of meals you can prepare and freeze using aubergine. In this way, the sahpe, colour and flavour of the eggplant is retained without any loss, and you won't have to worry about it turning soggy or brown once you take it out of the freezer.
Papoutsakia: Use shelled, fried eggplant with the filling added before you freeze them.
Moussaka: Use raw, blanched or fried slices OR prepare the moussaka and freeze it in the tin you intend to cook it in OR cook moussaka, cut it into individual servings and then freeze each serving separately.
Dog food: When boiling meat, rice or macaroni for your pet, add a few slices of eggplant for a healthier option. Our dog never complained!
Eggplant parmesan: Use fried slices or prepare the dish and freeze it before the final cooking stage.
Pastitsio: Add minced aubergine into the mince mixture, and freeze the pastitsio before the final cooking stage OR cook the pastitsio, let it cool down, cut it into individual servings, and freeze the servings separately.
Spaghetti bolognaise: Add minced aubergine into the mince mixture, and freeze it after it is cooked.
Yemista in the oven: Use raw shells straight from the freezer; don't fill them with the filling as rice doesn't freeze well.
Yemista in the pot: Use raw shells straight from the freezer; don't fill them with the filling as rice doesn't freeze well.
Melitzanosalata: Sorry, that can't be frozen!
Eggplant pickle: Sorry, I didn't make that, I only ate it!


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