Summit County Colorful Cooking: Orzo Eggplant Salad |

Summit County Colorful Cooking: Orzo Eggplant Salad

Orzo is added to this eggplant salad to beef it up a little. Orzo is small pasta that looks similar to rice. It cooks quickly and adds a nice texture that is easy to eat.
Billy Doran / Special to the Daily |

Summertime meals mean light, fresh and fun. Setting the patio table or packing the picnic basket is a High Country treat. You don’t have to follow the rules of the inside dinner table, and it’s the season for eating lighter, with colorful, fresh salads dominating the plate.

Fresh, sweet peppers are abundant in garden plots, farm stands and grocery aisles now, and they are so full of flavor you can add them to almost anything. Packed with vitamin C, low in calories and quick to cook, sweet peppers are a perfect start to this salad.

Orzo is added to this eggplant salad to beef it up a little. Orzo is small pasta that looks similar to rice. It cooks quickly and adds a nice texture that is easy to eat. When cooking orzo or any grain, be sure to stir it well in the water at the start of the cooking process to really allow the grains to separate and cook evenly. Mixing the orzo with creamy roasted eggplant gives this dish a rich feeling without the guilt.

Fresh eggplant can be found starting in August with its season running through October — as many of the local gardeners probably already know. It is a versatile vegetable, and here we stray from the norm of chopping it into cubes or dunking it in bread crumbs. Eggplants are large and take a little time to cook. When roasting an aubergine (eggplant), it turns stringy and spongy, so Colorful Cooking blends it to create a velvety vegetable. Eggplant prepared this way is a delicious addition to lasagna, as well.

Eggplant has gotten a bad rap because people say it is bitter. You may have heard of salting the eggplant prior to cooking to eliminate the bitterness, but nowadays most eggplant is produced so that it is not bitter. If your taste buds scream crazy bitter, slice the eggplant in half, sprinkle it with salt, and let it rest 15 minutes, and then rinse it off and start your cooking process.

This beautiful purple package has tons of antioxidants and fights free radials like crazy. This veggie is considered a brain food (if you eat the skin) and great for your cardiovascular system because it helps reduce blood cholesterol and relax blood vessel walls, allowing better blood flow.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends adults eat 5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily, and this easy-to-prepare salad helps you get the nutrients you need with fresh-from-the-garden vegetables.

Orzo-eggplant salad

4 cups orzo, cooked

1 pound sweet peppers

8 ounces feta

2 eggplants

1 cup parsley leaves, chopped

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Juice from 2 lemons (about 4 tablespoons)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the eggplant in half horizontally, and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt. Place cut side up on cookie sheet, and cook for 35 minutes or until very soft.

Heat grill to medium-high. Toss the whole sweet peppers with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and grill until lightly charred, softened and fragrant, about 8 minutes, turning three times. Allow peppers to cool slightly, and slice into bite-size pieces, discarding stems.

Cook orzo according to package directions. Combine balsamic, 1/2 cup olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Chop parsley, removing the thick stems. Crumble the feta. Mix orzo, peppers, feta and parsley, and stir to combine.

When eggplant is soft, cut the skins off (they should come off very easy), and place the meat in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Combine eggplant puree and dressing with salad, and serve warm or at room temperature. To keep warm, use a crockpot or place the salad in a baking dish and keep in warm oven at 250 degrees.

Makes 6 cups.

Tracy Miller teaches culinary classes at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards and shares recipes on TV8’s “Good Morning Vail.”

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