Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Elegance and Versatility; Eggplant

Look Up! I have a new blog address and my very own dot.com! I’ve actually had the dot.com for a while except it was hooked up to Wordpress which for the life of me I just couldn’t get the hang of, nor did I have the time or desire to learn. I just transferred my hosted site over to blogger and that is that, for now anyway:)

As you can imagine, there has been a lot going on in the garden the past month. We’ve had more butterfly visits,

And, the resident frog has set up camp underneath Marion’s Avocado plant, which happens to be growing quite nicely in front of the shed.

Yesterday he or she startled me. I was wiping down the outside table and just happen to look down when I saw Mr. Frog nestled in between the crevices of the garage and the driveway. How in the world he or she gets in there is beyond me but, I bet it’s cool and with all the little gnats flying around in the evening, I wouldn’t be surprised if it just snaps out its tongue for dinner. Now, that’s a picture I would LOVE to catch, lol…

The Sunflowers along the fence have finally decided to open. I have mixed feelings about this recent development. The blooming of the Sunflowers in my garden is bittersweet,

To me they are the harbinger of Summer’s end forecasting the shuttering approach of Autumn.

However, I can not deny the brilliance of Autumn’s recognition when the Mexican Sunflowers bloom:)

Whoops, it seems I’m getting a bit side tracked. I just looked at the title of this post and it included the word Eggplant, lol…Fall is the perfect time for the arrival of eggplant at the farm stands and in some of the local supermarkets. Many of the supermarkets in our area are setting up special displays for local produce this year. Finally!

That’s the Eggplant over to the far left. If you look real close, you might be able to see the brussels sprouts growing along the back up close to the house. It seems, I’m not very good at planning vegetable gardens anymore. The tomato plants were so huge, they blocked out those poor brussels sprouts for what seems like forever. After I snipped off most of the leaves and suckers from the tomato plants, I was delighted to see them. I hope they make it:)

In all my years of gardening, I don’t think I have ever had a more beautiful bounty of Eggplant! This year, each and everyone was near perfection. I’m rather surprised because eggplant is a warm weather crop and it doesn’t usually do so well when the temperatures drop in the evenings. Off hand, I must attribute it to two things, the bees and the limestone.

Eggplant flowers are usually pollinated by the wind. If they are too crowded or the weather is damp during flowering, it is difficult for them to get pollinated unless of course there are lots of buzzing pollinators around. I’m sure you can’t see it, but underneath the eggplants, there is also a small lavender bush. Between both, the bees had a blast in this section of the yard. Mind you, I may have been complaining about the lack of bees during the onset of Summer, I take it back!!! The garden was swarming with them and not one of us got stung!

I’m quite pleased with the limestone too and must say it was worth the time and investment. It kept the top of the ground cool and dry while keeping the underground warm and moist enough for the plants. I rarely watered the vegetable garden this Summer. Not only because we had more rain than usual but because the limestone must have held in the moisture.

As you can imagine, there has been a lot of eggplant cooking going on around here the last couple of weeks. Most of the time it includes tomatoes too.

Not only are eggplant and tomatoes companion plants in the garden, they love each other in the roasting pan too! Today, I thought I would share my very best favorite way to make eggplant. Okay, I adore eggplant and like it lots of ways but the following way is simple, delicious and oh so versatile!

There are only three must have ingredients for preparing eggplant my way:) Garlic, Olive Oil and of course, eggplant. You can do as many as you like this way but, if it is a new method for you, I’d start with just one eggplant or as some call it, Aubergine:)

Step One-Wash the eggplant and trim off that prickly end with a sharp knife. I don’t usually slice the end off. You can do that later if you so desire. I don’t peel the eggplant at this point either. If using fresh, garden picked eggplant, you really don’t have to peel it at all. As a matter of fact, the skin of the eggplant contains the flavonoid nasunin which is a powerful antioxidant. When you get a chance, you should read about the Amazing Benefits of Eggplant for Skin, Hair and Health! The Health Benefits may surprise you! (Eggplant has no cholesterol. As a matter of fact, recent studies have shown it may even lower cholesterol. I mention this for two reasons, one because September just happens to be Cholesterol Education Month and two you will find out about in a future post:)

Step Two- Prepare the garlic and olive oil by slicing the garlic thin and soaking it in a small bowl of Olive Oil. Now, don’t get all crazy about how thin the garlic is. Basically, you just want to be able to squeeze it down the slits you will be making in the eggplant. I like to put the garlic in the olive oil while I’m slicing so the oil picks up a tinge of the garlic flavor and also keeps the garlic moist enough while roasting inside the eggplant. It does make it more difficult to handle but, I think it’s worth it:)

Step Three- Prepare the Eggplant. With a small knife, carefully make small slits in the entire eggplant just large enough to insert the sliced garlic. Rocking the knife back and forth makes it easier to insert the garlic. Some of you may be familiar with seasoning roasts the same way. Off hand, I can’t think of the culinary term for it, if there is one. I started preparing eggplant this way long before I even read my first cookbook:) When I was around 8 or 9, I use to do most of the family cooking. Not knowing what to do with most of the ingredients I was tasked with preparing, I just winged it! Only later in life did I learn that most of my methods were indeed “culinary.” To me, it just seemed natural:) When you’re done, it should look something like this.

The History of Eggplants begins in India and Eastern Asia. It may seem rather strange that here in the US we refer to them as Egg Plant but there seems to be a pretty valid reason.

…The first eggplants to reach Europe during the Middle Ages were actually a rare white species, with oval fruits that closely resembled a hen’s egg…

Although the Spanish actually introduced the Eggplant to the Americas, in particular, to Brazil as early as 1650, Eggplant were still unknown to the United States for another 150 years. Thomas Jefferson introduced them to the United States in 1806 from a friend in France and held them in high regard. In fact, even today, a prickly, white Eggplant is still grown in Jefferson's preserved Virginia Garden at Monticello. Despite the fact that Jefferson, who was not only a founding father of the United States, but was also a legendary horticulturist who championed the Eggplant, the vegetable was primarily grown in the United States as an ornamental plant…(source)

Eggplant season is at its peak from August through October here in the states. I bet you’re wondering if there is such a thing as Eggplant Month, lol…Actually, I haven’t heard of one, yet! There is however a day of celebration put aside for Eggplant. That’s right folks, September 25th is National Eggplant Day!!! And, we mustn’t forget the Loomis California Eggplant Festival October 4 this year.

I'm all for dedicating a day to eggplant. I don’t think enough people really appreciate it for all its goodness. I have a feeling I know why too; bitterness. Here are some tips from the folks at The Kitchn.

One way of combating the bitterness of eggplant is by salting it. Usually, I would agree for other methods such as preparing it for eggplant parmesan. However, when it comes to roasting, I don't recall ever having a problem with bitterness.

Step Four- Preheat the oven to 400° Take the remaining oil from the garlic mixture and rub it all over the eggplant. If you need more oil, just add a bit more. Now, place the garlic stuffed eggplant in a shallow non aluminum roasting pan. (aluminum discolors it:) I usually use my Savoy roaster if I’m including other vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and onions but, if I’m roasting the eggplant alone, I use my cast iron skillet. Either will do. Roasting time varies according to the size of the eggplant but 40 minutes or so should do it. The eggplant should be nicely charred and shriveled. I know, it doesn’t sound appetizing but me oh my, it sure tastes good as is:)

Note:I’ve tried this on the barbecue with much success too. The first time I tried it I wrapped the eggplant in foil, a definite no no…Slowly roasted on the grill will work if you remember to keep turning it. I happen to like the skin but if you don’t, it is pretty easy to peel off once the eggplant is cool enough to handle.

I suppose you are now wondering what to do with your silky preparation? As for me, I like eggplant cooked this way warm or chilled. I actually prefer it chilled which works out great if you like Baba Gannoujh which means "spoiled old papa" in Lebanese:) Baba Gannoujh is eggplant purée flavored much like hummus with tahini, lemon, and garlic. I happen to LOVE it! You can also use your garlicky roasted eggplant as a dip for vegetables or as a sandwich filling. (btw, did you know like tomatoes, eggplant is actually a fruit:) Here’s a recipe for Baba ghanouj and Taratour Sauce from Anna Thomas’ The Vegetarian Epicure Book Two

Doesn't this sound interesting?

As for me, I’ll be having roasted eggplant, tomatoes and onions over pasta tonight. Marion will be having just the roasted tomatoes and onions as she does not like, in any way shape or form, garlic. And, since eggplant is in the nightshade family like tomatoes and peppers, she’ll be skipping the eggplant tonight so she is spared too much arthritis pain. Nightshades wreak havoc on arthritis!

Thank you so much for sharing your time with me today. I hope you enjoyed this post. Thank you to Inger from The Art of Natural Living for asking about the garlic slivers in the eggplant. I don’t think I would have shared this method if not for Inger asking. You must check out her Plum Drunken Fool, it’s a dessert sillies:) I actually had another post planned for today but I’m still researching some facts and it’s a bit more on a serious note. (tune in Sunday:)

I’m trying my darnedest to catch up with all of you and your delicious posts but it seems I just plum keep running out of time. I even stayed up way past my bed time last night in an effort to have this post done earlier but, alas…I will be visiting each and every one of you before Sunday, I promise:) Louise

1. Roasted Eggplant, Feta and Walnut Salad Chef Amie Edelstein
2. Eggplant Abruzzo Style
3. Chinese Steamed Eggplant with Shrimp Stir-Fry
4. Eggplant Escabeche
5. Eggplant and Caramelized Onion Dip
6. Roasted Eggplant Sandwich