Grilled Eggplant with Pistachios and Honeyed Goat Cheese {sponsored contest}

Grilled rounds of eggplant stand in for bread in this crostini-like snack. Top with honeyed goat cheese and crunchy pistachios for a Mediterranean-inspired appetizer. 

I received free pistachio samples from the Pistachio Health Institute mentioned in this post. By posting this pairing I am entering a contest sponsored by Pistachio Health Institute and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time. 

Sometimes on a lazy weekend Scott and I will get hungry before dinner and run to the health food store down the street for artisan cheese, baguette and wine.  Once there, our empty bellies and our tendency towards indecisiveness are confronted with waaay too many choices and we end up with four types of cheese, proscuitto, fig jam, and two loaves of bread.  What was meant to be a little nibble turns into an overly indulgent meal. Luckily, this only happens one or twice a year, but when it does, it's pretty epic.

For this months' sponsored contest, the Pistachio Health Institute has asked us to create health snack pairings featuring pistachios.  I immediately knew I wanted to makeover our not so healthy splurge. Instead of a cheese and white bread smorgasbord, I substituted slices of grilled eggplant for baguette, managed to limit it to one cheese and paired it with nutritious and delicious pistachios.  The result was just as satisfying and left us with enough room to enjoy dinner, which just happened to include pistachios too!

So let's talk pistachios.  Every nut has it's unique health benefits and I like to think of pistachios as the weight watchers nut.  With 160 calories in one ounce, pistachios are among the lowest calorie nuts.  Furthermore, shelling pistachios as you eat slows down your snacking, helping you be more aware of how much you're eating.  In fact, one study showed those who consumed pistachios in the shell consumed 41% fewer calories than those who ate shelled pistachios.  Another tip - keep the shells visible while you snack as a visual cue of how many you've eaten.  You'll eat about 18% less!

Other health benefits - pistachios are an excellent source of copper and manganese and a good source of thiamine and phosphorus.  Keep your heart healthy by snacking on pistachios - one serving a day can reduce harmful LDL cholesterol levels. Furthermore, pistachios increase the amount of antioxidants in the bloodstream, which prevents LDL cholesterol from inflaming and forming plaques on blood vessel walls.  Two carotenoids known for their benefits to eye health, lutein and zeaxanthin, are not found in many nuts, but are plentiful in pistachios.

In the past year, pistachios have become a staple in our house.  After our trip to Turkey this summer, I was inspired by Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, which frequently uses pistachios as both a garnish and a main ingredient.  I was also gifted two cookbooks this year, Jerusalem and The Sultan's Kitchen, which feature pistachios prominently.  

Still, my favorite way to enjoy pistachios (other than in authentic Italian gelato!) is as a snack. To recreate this delicious Mediterranean snack plate, simply serve grilled rounds of eggplant with goat cheese drizzled with honey and pistachios. To prepare the eggplant, I simply brushed eggplant slices with garlic oil, salt, and pepper, then cooked them on a grill pan until well marked and tender. I used local goat cheese from Trail Ridge farm, who makes the most incredibly creamy and tart goat cheese. I chose their "lavender blues" flavor, which is flavored with herbs like lavender, thyme and rosemary. It paired perfectly thyme flower honey, which I purchased from a gorgeous organic shop in Datcha, Turkey. To enjoy, simply spread a little goat cheese on a slice of grilled eggplant and top with a couple shelled pistachios.