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Recipe #195: Hearts of Romaine with Tri-Colored Roasted Bell Peppers, Eggplant Croutons, & Lemon-Sumac Dressing

Posted Nov 14 2010 8:50pm
I recently made this recipe for my parents when I visited them in late October. They loved it, & we all had seconds. :) Then, I made it again tonight for Erik, with equally favorable results. It's a really fun salad to make & to eat. Plus, it's a nice change of pace from the typical, same old lettuce-&-tomato salads.

The cool & creative thing about this salad is that it has baked eggplant croutons. In other words, the eggplant's been breaded in seasoned Panko, & then baked until crispy & golden brown. No oil is used to make them, so they're actually very healthy for you, unlike a lot of "real" croutons, which can contain a surprising amount of fat. (Queue  Psycho theme music  now. ;) )

After they bake in the oven, the eggplant croutons get nice & brown on the outside (Crunch, crunch!) but stay soft & chewy on the inside. They have a great texture & a wonderful, surprisingly mellow flavor. Honestly, even eggplant haters might like these croutons, because they don't actually taste much like eggplant. :) They really do taste (and look!) a lot like croutons, save their soft center.

Case in point: I completely fooled Erik into eating them for tonight's dinner, even though he's stated for the record (multiple times!) that he hates eggplant. I asked him how he liked the salad, which he said he enjoyed, & then slyly asked specifically about the croutons, to which he replied, "I like them!" Oh well, you might want to reconsider your opinion of eggplant. ;) Shhhh, don't tell him though, because I want him to keep eating them. ;) (Let's hope he doesn't see this post.)

Am I evil? Well, I'm just trying to get him to eat his vegetables, even the ones he says he doesn't like. I'm determined to change his mind about some of the ones he purportedly won't eat.  And I'm not going to give up any time soon. So you can just pack it in, Erik. Resistance is futile. :) You will eventually give in to my vegetable voodoo. LOL.

What can I say? I enjoy a good challenge. :-D

After all, a person might not like some preparations of certain vegetables but then might find out that they actually do like other preparations of the very same vegetable. (Shock, shock.) Or, perhaps the main reason they became so dead set against a particular vegetable over the years was due to a traumatic food experience (often from their childhood) that scarred them for life -- i.e., subjection to horrible cafeteria meals at school, a bad dining-out experience, or perhaps their mother couldn't cook to save her life. ;) Either way, it's important to keep an open mind, and give things a second chance. You never know. A person's tastes change over the years. Plus, there is a distinct possibility that a person might alter their opinion of a particularly despised or dreaded food given the right set of circumstances. It's been known to happen before.

Score: Corey - 1, Erik -1. He wins too, he just doesn't know it yet. :)

I know it's hard to see all of the listed ingredients in there, but I promise you, they're all there. Just buried underneath all of the lettuce. ;)

Hearts of Romaine with Tri-Colored Roasted Bell Peppers, Eggplant Croutons, & Lemon-Sumac Dressing

Salad Ingredients:
3/4 c. + 2 5/8 tsp. (about 6.4 fl. oz.)  lemon-sumac dressing  (see  recipe )
1 large red bell pepper
1 large yellow bell pepper
1 large orange bell pepper
10-11 oz. hearts of romaine, roughly torn into bite-sized pieces
1/3 c. nonfat feta, crumbled
1/3 c. sun-dried tomatoes, julienned & tightly packed
1/3 c. scallions, slice crosswise into 1/4" rounds (about 2 large scallions)
1 c. avocado, diced into 3/4" cubes & soaked in a bowl of lemon juice (to prevent oxidation) (about 1/2 large Florida or 1 medium-sized Haas avocado)
1/2 c. Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped & tightly packed
1/2 c. lightly toasted pecans, crushed

Eggplant Croutons:
1/2 c. panko (Japanese bread crumbs) (regular plain bread crumbs can also be used)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried basil leaves
1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1 tsp. dried parsley leaves
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram leaves
3 Thai eggplant (about 1 c. eggplant)
3 Indian eggplant (about 1 c. eggplant)
2 eggs, beaten

Directions: Prepare  lemon-sumac dressing  first, which can be made in advance. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving salad to allow flavors to properly meld together.

While salad dressing is marinating in the fridge, roast the peppers on the top rack of an oven that's been preheated to the highest temperature setting (i.e., 500-600°F) for 40-60 minutes, or until lightly charred/blackened (but not grey/burnt). Every 15-20 minutes, carefully open the oven, pull out rack, & rotate peppers a quarter-turn using heat-proof tongs, & then return to oven. You'll end up doing this procedure a total of 4 times, so that all four sides of the peppers become evenly roasted.

While peppers are roasting, toss all of the raw salad ingredients (romaine, feta, sun-dried tomatoes, scallions, parsley, & toasted pecans) together -- minus the avocado -- in a large salad bowl. Set aside.

Next, make the eggplant croutons: In a medium-sized bowl, mix together panko, salt, black pepper, basil, oregano, dried parsley, & marjoram. Dip each eggplant cube, one at a time, into a small bowl of the egg mixture & then shake off the excess. Then dip into a bowl of bread crumbs & transfer to an aluminum foil-covered tray. Repeat this procedure until all of the eggplant cubes have been coated in egg & breaded. Be sure to evenly space the eggplant cubes across the tray, so that none of them are touching each other or the sides/edges of the tray.

After you're done doing all of the above steps, the roasted peppers should be fairly close to being finished.
When roasted pepper are done, carefully pull the tray out of the oven. Let cool for at least 10-15 minutes on a heat-proof surface.

After the peppers have finished roasting, bake eggplant cubes on the top rack of an oven that's been preheated to 400°F for 40 minutes, flipping the eggplant croutons over onto the opposite side after the first 20 minutes of baking. Watch the oven carefully so eggplant cubes don't burn. Let cool, transfer to a heat-proof bowl, & set aside.

While eggplant cubes are baking in the oven, pick up the peppers, one at a time, with heat-proof tongs, remove the stems, & then drain the liquid into the sink. Then place peppers back onto the tray & peel off the skin. (The skin should peel off fairly easily.) Slice open each pepper & scrape out the seeds with a paring knife. (If some of the seeds are still sticking to the peppers, wash them off under running water; that usually does the trick.) Transfer peppers to a nonporous, heat-proof surface (preferably a silicone cutting board ) & julienne into 1/2" wide, 2-3" long strips. (I actually used my hands to tear each pepper into strips, which I thought was a lot easier, but if you'd rather not get your hands messy, do the former.) Transfer peppers to the salad bowl & toss with the other ingredients.

When eggplant cubes are done, let them cool for a few minutes, & then transfer them to a heat-proof bowl. Set aside.

Just before serving, pour the salad dressing onto the salad & toss once more. Thoroughly combine. Then add avocado cubes & eggplant croutons gently toss again. (Avocado is delicate & has a tendency to become mushy if tossed too vigorously.) Serve & enjoy!

Yield: Serves 6-8.

Chef's Notes: If you're lucky enough to have "double-decker" ovens, you can, of course, simultaneously roast the peppers & bake the eggplant cubes, which should save you a good 30 minutes or so.


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