Flavorful Zucchini and Eggplant Dishes to Enjoy

Zucchini with pasta. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

A versatile vegetable, zucchini is the star ingredient in many recipes from traditional, vegetarian main dishes to desserts. Eggplants (melitzanes) are also popular in Greek cuisine. A variety of cultures feature the eggplant in some of their most well-known dishes including Greek moussaka and papoutsaka (little shoes), French ratatouille, Indian curries, and Middle Eastern baba ghanoush.

Zucchini with Pasta

3-4 medium-sized zucchini

2-4 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

A pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

Set a large pot of cold water to bowl on the stove over medium high heat and cook the short pasta of your choice such as penne or shells, according to the package directions and be careful not to over-boil. Rinse the zucchini and slice into 1/2 inch rounds, then set aside until ready to use. In a large sauté pan or skillet with a cover, heat the olive oil until it shimmers over medium high heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent. Add the sliced zucchini, salt, pepper, oregano, red pepper flakes, if using, and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, cover the pan, and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally until the zucchini is tender but not mushy. Drizzle with additional olive oil, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, if desired, before serving. Makes a great side dish or serve with your favorite pasta as a vegan/vegetarian main course.

Melitzanes Papoutsakia with Bechamel

Eggplant. Public domain

5-6 small-medium eggplants

Greek sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Greek extra virgin olive oil

1 pound ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 cups tomato sauce or chopped fresh, ripe tomatoes

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups milk

1 cup grated Kefalotiri

1 egg, beaten

Wash the eggplants and cut them in half lengthwise. Season with salt and pepper to taste and fry in olive oil, cut side down, until tender and golden about 4-6 minutes. Flip eggplants over and continue cooking until tender. You may have to work in batches to fry all the eggplants. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked eggplants to a plate lined with paper towels to drain the excess oil. Place the cooked eggplant halves cut side up in a baking dish or roasting pan and set aside while making the filling.

If a lighter version is preferred, the eggplant halves can be brushed with olive oil and baked in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 25-30 minutes or until tender instead of frying. The eggplants will absorb less oil when baked rather than fried.

For the filling, in a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat, and brown the ground beef. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic, tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes, parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the sauce reduces slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before filling the eggplant halves.

To make the bechamel sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then add the flour and stir to cook but do not allow it to color, about 2 minutes. Add the milk and whisk until incorporated and smooth. Cook until bubbly and thickened. Whisk in 1/2 teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper, and 4 tablespoons of the grated Kefalotiri. Add the beaten egg and whisk quickly into bechamel sauce.

Use a spoon to press an indentation in the eggplant halves. If preferred, some of the eggplant flesh can be scooped out to make space for the filling. Spoon some of the meat sauce into each of the eggplant halves. Top with a spoonful of bechamel sauce for each and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese. Bake uncovered in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until heated through and golden on top. If preferred, top with additional bechamel and cheese. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve immediately.