I grow an Italian Long Eggplant in my garden, and this year my three plants have decided to out-preform every other year I have grown them. This is the first year that I am preserving them, and dehydrating them seems the best option.
Italian long Eggplant
To dehydrate eggplant, you will need to make a bath for the eggplant so it doesn't discolor. The bath I use for eggplant is 4 cups of water, 2 Tablespoons of salt and 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice. I usually use the course kosher salt for canning, pickling, and general cooking, and I use it for my marinades and acid baths as well. The best way to prepare the bath is to heat it just a bit, enough to dissolve the salt, but no more than that. The bath needs to be cool when it is used, so do this first.
Depending on your preferences, you can keep on the skin, or peel it off. For our favorite recipe, a fritter type patty, I like to take the skins off. If you are doing a Moussaka, a type of meat, tomato and eggplant casserole, you may want to keep the skins on. Using my mandolin slicer, I cut the eggplant about 1/8 inch, but they can be thicker, about 1/4 inch, if needed for a special recipe. I just use the mandolin over the bath, so that the eggplant does not start to discolor.
Eggplant Slices soaking in a Bath
The eggplant should soak for about an hour, and be completely submerged. The best way to do this is put a plate or a storage container lid on top of the bath to weigh down the slices. If nothing fits, a piece of plastic wrap, as wide and as long as the pot, can be placed on top of the water and eggplant, and just push out the air bubbles, so that the plastic wrap is keeping all the eggplant slices wet.
Once the hour is over, strain the eggplant in a strainer by gently pouring them into the strainer, or use a slotted spoon to scoop them into a strainer. Once they are well drained, place them on the dehydrator trays to dry, at 135.F if you have a temperature control feature.
Eggplant on Dehydrator
The eggplant is done when it is crisp. They will snap in half. Take them off and place them in a bowl to cool before putting them in an airtight container or zip close bag. If I know how much a certain recipe calls for, like if one recipe calls for two eggplants, I will package two eggplants and label as such. Most recipes for eggplant will usually call for a whole eggplant and not a set cup amount. These dehydrated eggplants can also be stored in a vacuum bag for long term storage.
Now, what to do with all this dried eggplant? Moussaka is a type of eggplant casserole with meat, tomatoes, ricotta and parmesan cheese. It's very much like a layered lasagna, except using eggplant instead of pasta. The first thing to do is rehydrate the eggplant. With a slotted spoon, place eggplant slices into boiling water, and take them out in about 5 minutes. Set them on a plate to cool. In another bowl, mix some cooked ground beef with tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes, and spices like onions, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. In a glass casserole pan, coat with a bit of olive oil, and layer eggplant slices, meat, cheese, eggplant, meat, cheese, until the casserole is filled. You can dip the eggplant in olive oil if you like, before placing them in the layers. Top it all off with grated parmesan cheese, and bake covered for about 40 minutes at 325.F and then uncovered until the top is browned. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. You can add sweet peppers, cut onions, or another favorite veggie to this dish. You can also substitute beef for lamb, and I have heard of some using venison. This is a casserole, so make it your own!
Another way I use eggplant is in a recipe from the 19th Century cookbook, "Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping." The recipe calls for two salted and peppered mashed eggplants (they would have been closer in size to my eggplants than the HUGE ones you see in the grocery store, so measure accordingly). The first thing to do is rehydrate two eggplants in the same manner as for the moussaka, and when the slices are cool, throw them in a food processor with an egg and salt and pepper to taste. I also like to add pinch of garlic powder, and a friend likes to add onion, but season to your taste. Puree the eggplant, egg and spices, and then pour into a bowl. Now add 1 or 2 tablespoons of flour to thicken the batter. You want the batter to have just a little thicker consistency than pancake batter, but not too much. According to the book, "fry in little cakes in butter or butter and lard in equal parts." I have used these methods at Firestone Farm, and I love butter and lard, but at home I try to be a little healthier, and use about a tablespoon of olive oil to fry. Fry one side until bubbles come up through the batter, or the underside is nice and brown, flip and brown other side, and then place on paper towels to soak up any excess oil, butter or lard. I like these best with marinara sauce, my son likes ranch better, my husband likes my hot sauce and my daughter just eats them plain, but you can serve these with just about any sauce.
If you have a favorite way to use these, post it in the comments, I would love new ideas!