Colorful Cooking column: Orzo eggplant salad makes for a light, healthful dinner

Tracy Miller
Colorful Cooking
Orzo, a small pasta that looks like rice, adds a bit more substance to this eggplant salad.
Billy Doran | Special to the Daily |

Summertime meals are 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 its the season for eating lighter with colorful, fresh salads dominating the plate.

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 a 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 taste without the guilt.

Fresh eggplant can be found starting in August and running through October, as many local gardeners probably already know. Eggplant 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 I like to blend it to create a velvety vegetable. Eggplant prepared this way is also a delicious addition to lasagna.

Eggplant has gotten a bad rap because people say it is bitter. You many 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, then rinse it off and start your cooking process.

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This beautiful purple package has tons of antioxidants and fights free radicals. 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 for better blood flow.

The USDA recommends adults eat five cups of fruits and vegetables daily, and this easy-to-prepare salad helps your 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 2 lemons (4 tablespoons)

1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the eggplant in half horizontally, 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 about 8 minutes, turning three times, until lightly charred, softened and fragrant. Allow peppers to cool slightly and slice into bite size pieces, discarding stems.

Cook orzo. Combine balsamic, 1/2 cup olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Chop parsley, removing thick stems. Crumble feta. Mix orzo, peppers, feta, parsley.

When eggplant done, remove the skin and puree the meat in a food processor until smooth. Combine eggplant puree and dressing with salad and serve warm or at room temperature. To keep warm, use crock pot or place in a 250-degree oven. 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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