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Purple never tasted so good

The French turn out wonderful dishes with eggplant, maybe because they don't call it "eggplant." They call it "aubergine," which also means the color purple, a rich, royal shade of purple the color of a ripe eggplant.

If you like lamb, you'll love Lamb Shank Braised with Aubergine and Tomato, ingredients widely admired throughout the countries that ring the Mediterranean. This triumvirate, with the mandated onion and garlic, stars in dishes like Greek moussaka (eggplant slices, layered lasagne-like, with ground lamb and tomato sauce) and French gigot d'agneu a la Provencal (leg of lamb roasted with thick slices of eggplant, sauced with fresh tomato coulis).

You'll need a small domestic or Japanese eggplant, weighing about 8 ounces, for each lamb shank. During cooking, the eggplant literally melts into a rich sauce with the tomato and onion. The recipe is easily doubled to make two servings, in which case you can use a larger 1-pound eggplant and, in winter, instead of fresh tomatoes, a 1-pound can.

No need to peel all but the oldest, coarsest eggplants. As a rule, the skin is tender and adds flavor to finished dishes. Tossing raw eggplant with salt draws out some of the bitterness, which is also subdued by cooking. Skip the salting step if you're on a low salt diet.

Lamb Shank Braised with Aubergine and Tomato tastes best beside Yellow Rice, with a simple green salad dressed in vinaigrette of red wine vinegar and olive oil, and an inexpensive big red wine, such as a cotes du Rhone or a California zinfandel or an Italian barbera.

Frances Price is a dietitian and chef who writes and cooks in Baltimore. She welcomes your letters and questions on nutrition and cooking and recipes for one. If you wish a reply, please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Frances Price, Cooking For One, c/o Food Section, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Lamb Shank Braised

with Aubergine and Tomato

1 small (8 ounce) eggplant

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 lamb shank, trimmed of fat

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 medium (8 ounce) tomato,

skinned, chunked OR 1 cup canned tomatoes

{ cup liquid (beef or chicken, red wine or water)

\ teaspoon thyme

Cracked red or black pepper to taste

Wash eggplant, cut in 1-inch cubes, toss with salt, turn into colander in sink and let stand 30 minutes to draw out bitter juices.

Meanwhile, film a heavy 10-inch skillet with oil, place over medium heat until oil is almost smoking hot, about 5 minutes to preheat. Add lamb and brown on all sides, turning as necessary.

Remove lamb, add onion to pan and cook, stirring constantly, until onion begins to brown. Stir in garlic, then tomato, liquid, thyme and pepper. Rinse salt from eggplant in cold water, drain eggplant, stir into vegetables and bring to a boil, stirring often.

Reduce heat to lowest setting, bury lamb in vegetables, cover and cook 1{ hours or until meat is falling from bone, turning lamb occasionally.

Cooking time: hands on, 30 minutes; unattended, 1{ hours.

Nutrients per serving: 355 calories, 33 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrate, 11 grams fat, 89 mg cholesterol, 854 mg sodium.

Yellow Rice

{ cup long grain or converted rice

{ teaspoon turmeric

\ teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

1{ cups water

In microwave safe 4-cup glass measure or casserole, combine rice, turmeric, salt and pepper with water. Microwave, uncovered, on High (100 percent) 5 minutes; stir. Microwave on Medium (70 percent) 15 minutes, stirring after 7 minutes. Fluff with fork, let stand 5 minutes, then serve.

To cook on stove top, combine all ingredients in small heavy saucepan, cover, bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to lowest setting and cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Leftover rice? Toss with a little garlic vinaigrette and raw vegetables, like finely diced zucchini or yellow summer squash, red onion, celery, red or green pepper; grated carrot. Makes 2 servings.

Hands-on and microwaving or cooking time: 20 minutes.

Nutrients per serving: 171 calories, 3 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fat, 0 cholesterol, 274 mg sodium.

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