Eggplants are popular in Louisiana cuisine. It is a veritable ingredient. Although it is often served as a vegetable, it is actually a fruit. It is related to the tomato and potato.The egg-shaped, glossy, purple fruit has white flesh with a meaty texture. The cut surface of the flesh turns quickly brown when it is cut open.

Eggplant is used around the world. It’s most popular French preparation is Ratatouille. In Italy, it is fried and topped with tomato sauce and Mozzarella cheese as Eggplant Parmesan. Today, I am sharing two Louisiana dishes, Fried Eggplant Sticks and Stuffed Eggplant Pirogue Peggy.

This appetizer was one of the most popular at the last restaurant I worked at, Cannon’s. They can be prepared in advance so that all you have to do is drop them in the fryer. But don’t make them too far in advance; the breadcrumbs can become soggy. If they do, just recoat them with breadcrumbs.

Fried Eggplant Sticks

3 Eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch strips
1 cup Flour
Chicken Batter, recipe to follow
2 cups Italian Breadcrumbs
Grated Parmesan Cheese

Heat deep fryer to 350℉. Cover eggplant sticks with flour, shaking off the excess. Dip the sticks into the batter. Remove and shake off the excess. Roll sticks in breadcrumbs until fully covered. Fry from 2-4 minutes or golden brown. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese before serving. Serve with Hollandaise sauce for dipping.

Chicken Batter
8 Eggs
1 quart Buttermilk
2 tablespoons Salt
2 tablespoons Black Pepper
2 tablespoons Cumin

Beat Eggs. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Keep cold until ready to use.

This recipe is named for my wife Peggy. A pirogue is a flat bottom boat that is used to travel the shallow water in the bayous. The eggplant shell resembles a pirogue. A great way to showcase eggplant is to remove the pulp from the shell, cook it, then stuff it back into the shell.

Stuffed Eggplant Pirogue Peggy

3 medium Eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 cup Ham, diced small
1/3 cup Onion, chopped
1/4 cup Yellow Bell Pepper, chopped
3 cloves Garlic, chopped
1/2 cup Seafood or Chicken Stock
1/2 pound medium Shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
1/2 pound Lump Crabmeat, picked thru for shells
1/2 cup Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs
6 tablespoons fresh Parmesan Cheese, grated and divided
1/4 cup Green Onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh Basil, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh Tarragon, chopped
1 teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 1/2 teaspoons Creole Seasoning

Preheat oven to 425℉. Score cut side of eggplant half in a crisscross pattern. Lightly coat cut sides of eggplant with cooking spray. Place eggplant halves, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Bake at 425℉ for 10 minutes. Turn the eggplant halves over and bake for an additional 10 minutes or tender. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove pulp from the eggplant, leaving 1/4-inch thick shell. Place eggplant shells on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Chop pulp and put aside. Reduce oven to 350℉. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add ham, onion, bell pepper and garlic. Satué for 5 minutes. Add reserved eggplant pulp and stock, cooking for 10 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Stir in the shrimp and crabmeat, cook 1 minute and remove from heat. Add breadcrumbs, 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, green onions, basil, tarragon, lemon zest and Creole seasoning, stirring gently to combine. Mound about 1/2 cup of seafood mixture into each shell. Sprinkle each with the remaining Parmesan Cheese. Bake at 350℉ for 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated and shrimp are done.

In the grocery store, you can find eggplants in the fresh vegetable section. Just remember, it’s a fruit.