Local Food Travels: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

We spend time in far northern Michigan every summer. Much of upper Michigan is a wild and remote place; small towns are separated by forests, lakes, and incredible stretches of natural beauty. The regional culture is one of resilience, creativity, and intense local pride. Not surprisingly, local foods are also a special part of the region.

“Local” isn’t anything new in the U.P. – those who live through the long winters and brilliant, brief summers have always turned to native plants, fish, and wildlife to sustain themselves.

Upper Michigan has a wealth of natural resources, including mineral deposits; native American tribes mined copper in the Keweenaw Peninsula between 5000 BCE and 1200 BCE.  Mining has long defined this region; in the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial mining brought immigrants from all over Europe to find copper for a rapidly-industrializing American economy. Some of those immigrants were from Cornwall, and they brought with them the Cornish meat pie – the pasty. U.P. pasties traditionally have minced meat and root vegetables (usually rutabaga), and in a restaurant you’ll be asked if you want gravy or ketchup with your meal. (Note: Gravy is for tourists.) Today, locals and tourists alike enjoy pasties with an impressive array of craft beer produced in local microbreweries.

Lake Superior is the deepest of the Great Lakes, and it is better understood for what it is: an inland, freshwater sea. Local fish is prized for its abundance and clean flavor. Lake Superior whitefish can be found on nearly every menu. I loved the ubiquitous fish taco when I was visiting Southern California, but modern Yooper cooks have mastered the Lake Superior whitefish taco:

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Tourists come to the U.P., and to Copper Harbor, in particular, to hike, kayak, hunt, ski, and snowmobile. Recently, the U.P. has become well-known for world-class mountain bike trails (initially, this was our reason for visiting). We go back to Copper Harbor every summer because we can’t get enough of this quiet town on the very northern point of the Keweenaw Penninsula.

We also truly appreciate the unaffected attitude towards local foods, too. In summertime, thimbleberries are prolific in the woods and fields all around town, and you will find jams for sale at the shops – be sure to pick up some thimbleberry jam. (If you’re really into jam, a visit to The Jampot is utterly necessary.)  In Copper Harbor, Jamson’s Bakery makes exceptional fruit turnovers and muffins with these local berries early every morning for mountain bikers and trekkers waiting to board the ferry to Isle Royale.

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Until next year, Copper Harbor.

 

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The rocky shoreline.

Market Menu: August 12

Here are some things we’re looking forward to making with market and other local ingredients:

Breakfast Ideas:

by flickr user heymrleej

Creamy Breakfast Polenta – this gets its creaminess from tahini — which might sound a bit strange in a breakfast porridge, but give it a chance!
Pantry check: cornmeal, almond milk, water, salt, brown sugar or honey, tahini, cinnamon, cardamom, berries 

Amaranth, Quinoa, and Polenta Porridge – amaranth on its own doesn’t have a lot of flavor, but I really like the idea of adding the quinoa and polenta. Homemade multigrain cereal! I’m not aware of a local amaranth grower, but I’m pretty sure that Common Ground carries it in their bulk area.
Pantry check: amaranth, quinoa, polenta or cornmeal, water, milk, cinnamon, maple syrup, nuts or seeds  

Lunch Ideas:

Raw squash salad with radishes, manchego, and lemon vinaigrette
Pantry check: summer squash, shallot, radishes, garlic, honey, lemons, white wine vinegar, salt & pepper, olive oil, horseradish (optional), basil and mint, manchego cheese (or parmesan)

Roasted vegetables & hummus – as a dip or sandwich

Fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil & balsamic vinegar, a little green onion, lettuce if you have it.

Mediterranean Chopped Salad
Pantry check: olive oil, white wine vinegar, almonds, canned chick peas. Swap out veggies as desired – this recipe features sweet bell peppers, but carrots, fennel, or shaved zucchini would work well here, too. 

Come to think of it, is there any better time of year for any kind of chopped salad? Smitten Kitchen’s would make a great non-sad desk lunch, too.
Pantry check: olive oil, red wine vinegar, chick peas, salami. 

With all the fresh veggie options, its a great time of year for noodle salads. Martha Stewart has 17 ideas for you.

Dinner Ideas:

Penne with sweet summer vegetables, pine nuts, and herbs – the recipe calls for roasting all the vegetables, which is one option for reducing the time spent standing at the stove. You could roast ahead of time, even. Sub in whatever you have and love; it doesn’t need to be exactly this combination of vegetables.
Pantry check: cherry tomatoes, corn, summer squash, red onion, garlic, olive oil, penne (or other pasta), basil and oregano, salt and pepper, pine nuts

BBQ chicken with peach and feta slaw – this recipe calls for store-bought, pre-shredded broccoli slaw, but it’s gonna be that much better with the real deal. Use a food processor to turn your broccoli into slaw, or just slice very fine.
Pantry check: olive oil, sherry vinegar (or sub wine vinegar), your fave store-bought BBQ sauce. 

Grilled steak and endless options for summer-veggie sides:

Roasted green beans with Harissa

Pantry check: sliced almonds, Harissa paste

Grilled veggies
pantry check: fresh basil, olive oil, fresh garlic

Hummus heaped with tomatoes and cucumbers – and you don’t even have to make your own hummus (but if you want to, you can. And let us know if you peeled the chick peas!). Pantry check: sumac, za’atar (optional – both can be found at Common Ground in Bloomington), olive oil, fresh lemon, fresh herbs. 

Shakshuka works as a quick dinner, reheats as a great lunch, and is perfectly at home for breakfast, too. You don’t have to make it spicy – there are plenty of variations on this dish.
Pantry check: tomato paste, cumin seeds, caraway, paprika, eggs, honey, garlic, greens. 

 

Unloved Veggies: Fennel

wild fennel in western washington

Raw, natural fennel must look pretty weird to a lot of market shoppers. Fennel bulbs don’t enjoy the broad recognition of other summer favorites like tomatoes and peppers. Also, having a reputation for “tasting like black licorice” is probably a turn off when you’re looking for dinner items. I’m here to tell you that this goofy-looking vegetable is truly a gem – and it really doesn’t taste like old-fashioned candy (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

A good source of vitamin C and potassium, fennel bulb and fennel seed are recognized for having medicinal qualities; try having a few slices of raw fennel after a meal as a digestive. It is also an ingredient in absinthe. Raw fennel does have a licorice-like flavor, but it’s quite subtle. If you roast or cook it, that flavor recedes even further into the background.

Distinct, contrasting flavors compliment fennel’s unique flavor. It shines in raw salads – try it in Mediterranean-style dishes that include citrus, olive oil, and fresh herbs. I simply slice it and add it to whatever lettuce salad I’m making.

mandoline for thin slices

Perhaps because fennel is hard and crunchy, using a sharp knife or a mandoline to shave it is a great way to ensure that you get the right ratio of fennel to other salad ingredients. Here are some ideas for raw fennel salads:

Not into raw? Roasted fennel is also great paired with your veggie favorites, such as potatoes and carrots. Chicken and pork are good partners. This roasted, curried fennel would be a great meatless side. So would this one for roasted fennel, chickpeas, peppers and grapes.

thin-sliced fennel

Feeling a little adventurous? Try pickling it – this recipe has that classic pairing with citrus; you can make it spicy and sweet or tangy.

Fennel is in season here in central Illinois from July to September, though usually you can find fresh fennel at the Thanksgiving Market (my family requests it every year!). That’s a good thing, because once you try it, you’re going to want more!

 

 

The Mythical Vegetannual

I just love this image, of a mythical single plant that bears all our vegetables. It’s not my creation — it’s Barbara Kingsolver’s, from her farm-memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The intention was to show where all our vegetables come from, botanically-speaking. From this one image, you can start to see how and why some of our vegetables take so long to be ready to harvest.

“The vegetables we eat may be leaves, buds, fruits, or seeds, but each comes to us from some point along this same continuum, the code all annual plants must live by. No variations are allowed. They can’t set fruit, for example, before they bloom. As obvious as this may seem, it’s easy enough to forget in a supermarket culture where the plant stages constantly present themselves in random order.”

“Take a minute to study this creation – an imaginary plant that bears over the course of one growing season a cornucopia of all the different vegetable products we can harvest. We’ll call it a vegetannual. Picture its life passing before your eyes like a time-lapse film: first, in the cool early spring, shoots poke up out of the ground. Small leaves appear, then bigger leaves.  As the plant grows up into the sunshine and the days grow longer, flower buds will appear, followed by small green fruits. Under midsummer’s warm sun, the fruits grow larger, riper, and more colorful. As days shorten into the autumn, these mature into hard-shelled fruits with appreciable seeds inside. Finally, as the days grow cool, the vegetannual may hoard the sugars its leaves have made, pulling them down into a storage unit of some kind: a tuber, bulb, or root. So goes the year.” (Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle).

It’s easy to remember that large, tough-skinned squashes are fall harvests, or that green shoots like ramps are the first to appear in the spring. But the time of year is also a clue to flavor, which takes time to develop. Spring turnips are soft and tender, where summer turnips are much spicier. Carrots and parsnips and brussels sprouts can be harvested in late summer, but the sweetness really increases when the weather turns cold, so harvesting after the first frost will greatly reward you.

Though these dates below aren’t fixed, they’re a good guide as to what you can expect to find available freshly harvested from local producers. Much of the spring veg like spinach and lettuce gets antsy when the weather turns, bolting and producing flowers and seeds, not to be replanted again until cooler weather.

April-May:  spinach, kale, radishes, lettucechard, ramps, green garlic, garlic scapes

Summer vegetables like broccoli, green beens, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes tend to produce from the same plants throughout the summer, as long as they’re getting what they need. Paste tomato varieties like San Marzano and Roma will produce all their tomatoes at once, but the rest will keep on going until it just gets too cold. Snow peas and cucumbers do ok until the real summer heat arrives; they can both have short seasons, depending on the weather.

May-June:  cabbage, romaine, broccoli, cauliflower
June:  snow peas, baby squash, cucumbers
July:  green beans, green peppers, and small tomatoes
July-August:  beefsteak tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, summer squash

Fall roots offer a nice sweet starchiness that we come to expect in our Thanksgiving and other autumn meals. Many of the spring vegetables return as well, once the heat of the day/night backs off.

August-September: melons, pumpkins, winter squash
September-frost: beets, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts, radishes, greens

So stay tuned for those melons and squash, carrots and parsnips and brussels sprouts, and the return of radishes! Follow your farmers on facebook for more information about what they’re growing and harvesting right now. Remember the list of local farms on the tab at the top of our page (or click this link).

And keep in mind that these farmers offer their produce for sale in other local venues besides the Bloomington Farmer’s Market: Green Top Grocery, Common Ground, and others!

Straightforward Preserving: Tomato Jam!

I know, you might be looking at that title all skeptically, thinking “I like tomatoes, sure, but JAM? What are you even talking about?” This might be one you have to just take on trust. Tomatoes make some amazing jam. It’s great on toast, but especially tasty along with eggs and/or sausage. I think it’s the closest you can come in mid-winter to the taste of a fresh, flavorful tomato picked right off the plant. It’s not savory, but it’s not as sweet as other jams, and definitely not as tart and fruity. And if it’s your first canning experience, the acidic content (tomato plus added lemon) makes it a safer one.

There are a lot of recipes out there if you google a little, but I really like this trio. The first time I made tomato jam, I split my tomato haul into three pots (because I couldn’t pick!), and made a small batch of all three recipes. After that, I’ve only ever made the sweet & spicy.

I make it pretty much as it’s written, using regular light brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon, red wine vinegar and lime juice. If you’re having trouble imagining sweet jam with the flavor of tomatoes, note that the fruit:sugar ratio is much lower on the sugar end than other fruit jams: 455g tomatoes to 45g sugar in this recipe, or 10:1 by weight.

The other sweet-but-not-too-sweet tomato preserves that I’ve really enjoyed is the New York Times recipe for preserved tomatoes with lemon. They call for small pear-shaped tomatoes, but anything smaller than a golf ball will work just fine. And I don’t bother with peeling them anymore – just check that the tomatoes you’re using don’t have particularly thick skins. With most small tomatoes, you won’t even notice them in the preserves. The NYT recipe is interesting in that it has you put the tomatoes, sugar, and lemon slices in a saucepan overnight — with no heat, just room temperature over time. The next day, you add the spices and gently cook until the tomatoes start to go clear. You can remove them and the lemons and boil the syrup that remains, so that it thickens a bit. But the idea is to leave the tomatoes intact (which is why smaller is better). If you want to keep them throughout the winter, sterilize the jars first (leave in boiling water for 15 minutes), then fill and process according to the recipe.

Canning/Processing:

“Processing” canned goods requires boiling the (nearly-full) jars, with 2-part lids (shown at right).

How full you fill your jars will depend on the food you’re canning (generally 1/8″ to 1/4″ from the top of the jar).

How long you boil the jars will also depend on the food you’re canning (10 minutes up to multiple hours).

When you’re canning acid foods (fruits, jams, and pickles, for the most part), boiling water and a large stock pot are sufficient. When you’re canning low-acid foods (vegetables and meats), you have to use a pressure cooker — a boiling water bath doesn’t get hot enough to destroy potentially harmful bacteria.

Our advice when canning is to always use a recipe that’s been tested, and follow the instructions in the USDA and Ball guides. 

You don’t have to process your jam if you’re just going to store it in the refrigerator, of course. Processing is necessary for safe room-temperature storage, which gives you more time to use it (and/or more flexibility to give your canned goods as gifts to friends). But you may find it makes sense to try a recipe first — keeping the results refrigerated — and make it again w/ the processing steps added in, if you like it enough to add those steps.

Resources:

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has many guides available online for free, in pdf. They’re the source for USDA standards and guidance on food safety.

The Ball Blue Book is magazine-sized, and available most places that keep a canning display (jars, lids, equipment) from Ball. For now, this means the larger stores; Common Ground and Green Top don’t carry jars and lids at this time.

Food in Jars is a blog devoted to canning and preserving, and they have a great Canning 101 page with resources for getting started.

Sadly, one of my favorite go-to blogs (Tigress in a Jam) for jam ideas seems to have been abandoned and taken over by advertising bots, but you can find images and recipes from the participants in her jam challenges over the years on her Flickr group.

Canning Basics

Note: this is the first in a series of posts about preserving food. In subsequent posts, we’ll cover specific types of preserving, equipment, book suggestions and ideas for how to use some of your preserved food over the winter. Today, we want to cover just the basics. For more information, we recommend the Ball Blue Book, which you can find at most stores that carry canning supplies. 

just one step beyond cooking

That’s the opening header of the Ball Blue Book, and I think it’s meant as a friendly introduction to a process that can seem quite overwhelming! The possibility of spoilage, hidden dangers you’ve heard horror stories about, the lack of a pressure cooker, there might be all kinds of things keeping you from starting. But this post is designed to help get you over that hump with some tips for first-time canners.

Whatever you do, start with and follow a canning recipe. You can find them online on blogs, or in canning books or magazines. The Ball Blue Book is usually sold near the canning supplies, but you’ll also find other small booklets or magazines dedicated to canning near the checkouts — especially as the summer gets going.

The reason for using canning recipes is that they’ve been tested to be sure that the end result is safe. Altering ingredients, temperatures, times, cleaning procedures or even equipment can “affect the quality and safety” of your canning, as Ball puts it. For instance, don’t substitute the type of vinegar in a canning recipe; the % of acid is very important for germ-nongrowth!

There are courses you can take that teach you how to develop a canning recipe — I’ve always wanted to take one! I think it involves measuring the pH of the mix at various points, and checking for growth of bacteria after processing, by culturing the food. But absent that training — follow a recipe!!

Jam is one of the easiest things to start with; not a ton of ingredients to worry about, and no pressure canner needed (since fruit is acidic). The Ball page has a great intro to jam canning, with step-by-step guides to making and canning jam. Blackberries, peaches and blueberries are in season now, with apples coming soon (recipes linked on each fruit). Websites/blogs are useful, but you’ll find lots of recipes in canning magazines and books. I like the Ball Blue Book for all the standard jams and relishes, but also these books:

Our next post has links to recipes for tomato jam! Yes, tomato jam! The tomatoes you’ll find at local markets now are perfect for making jam. Stay tuned for that post!!

 

 

Leek and Potato Soup

I have to admit, I don’t think I had ever a) tasted, or b) cooked leek and potato soup until just a few years ago. I’m not actually sure I’d ever had a leek before then! But my friends whom I gardened with raved about leek season, and about the soup in particular, and finally I got up the interest/nerve/time to try it. Or to look at recipes, at least!

Some recipes I like:

Alton Brown’s Leek Potato Soup Recipe

New York Times Golden Leek and Potato Soup

Serious Eats’ Food Lab: Potato and Leek Soup

 

I don’t know what I’d been waiting for, honestly! It was really fast and delicious. You can make it quite creamy or less so, but it doesn’t require any sort of fussing-over or precise measurement. Just cook and blend, and you can toss it in the freezer for later.

A basic ratio to use for this soup is 1 # leeks, 1 # potatoes (yukon gold or russets, or a combination of both), a knob of butter, 1 c. heavy cream (or half and half, or not), 1 qt chicken or veg stock, and some herbs (bay, or parsley/celery, or chives, though a touch of nutmeg can also be delicious!).

On our Facebook Live video, we used:

  • 822g of yukon gold potatoes,
  • 700g of leeks, and
  • about 3T of butter,
  • a quart of chicken stock,
  • salt and pepper to finish

No cream! We’ll freeze this, as it made about 6 qts? of soup – which is more than we can eat in the next few days!

When we thaw and re-heat it, I’ll probably add about 1c of milk or 1/2 c of half & half and 1/2 c. of water to thin it a bit.

 

 

Fast Five Ways to Enjoy Swiss Chard

Oh, Swiss Chard! The spinach of midsummer, hearty-but-light leafy green that can deal with a Central Illinois July!! Full of potassium and Vitamins A, C, and K!!

In case swiss chard doesn’t inspire your meal prep thinking, though, here are five ideas for dishes that use such common ingredients, they might not even require a trip to the store.

 

 

  1. In a Frittatta. We’re spoiled for local eggs around here, which are absolutely delicious. If you have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, use it. If not, an oven-safe skillet will work. You want to saute your vegetables first: onion, garlic, greens, potatoes, etc. Beat the eggs in a bowl, then fold in the vegetables, and pour it all back in the hot (medium-high temp) buttered skillet. Spread out gently to distribute the vegetables, and let it cook without disturbing it, until you can see that the sides are set. Then, put in the oven at 400F for about 10 minutes to cook the middle. Or, you can leave it on the stovetop a little longer, and then put under the broiler to finish. I like to add some parmesan or asiago cheese to the top before putting it under the broiler. You can use the ribs in this, if you like; just start sauteeing them earlier than the leaves.
  2. With Polenta and Egg. I don’t generally use a recipe for this, but Bobby Flay’s generous use of butter and cheese for the polenta in this recipe definitely gets my thumbs up. Note that his recipe calls for mustard greens, but swiss chard makes a perfectly good substitute.
  3. With Beets and Goat Cheese. Since swiss chard is pretty much beet greens that have been bred for the qualities we desire in the leaves, cooking them up with the beet roots makes a certain kind of sense. I tend to think beets and goat cheese can do no wrong, and this recipe layers some additional flavors on and makes for a lovely-looking (and tasting!) dish to take or serve to company.
  4. In a Quinoa Salad with Goat Cheese. Just like its cousin the beet, swiss chard also likes having some goat cheese around! This recipe adds garlic, mushrooms and onions, and I’m pretty sure some toasted almond slices would be a delicious addition.
  5. With Potatoes and Garlic. This is just about the easiest swiss chard recipe I know of: boil some small potatoes, put them in a pan with the swiss chard and some oil and garlic (red pepper flakes, if you like some heat), and toss/smash until combined and the chard is cooked. Here’s another, for good measure; the addition of some vinegar is a nice touch.

Market Menu: July 29!

What to make when you have EVERYTHING available at the market? It’s almost hard to choose!!

Breakfasts:

I’m partial to toast and jam or steel-cut oats and peanut butter, but eggs are always a delicious breakfast option.

How to Poach an Egg, by a self-described terrible egg poacher – Smitten kitchen
Worth a read/try. I won’t swear by any method, as I am also a terrible egg poacher, but when you get it right, it’s so rewarding.

Muesli / Refrigerator Oats – Epicurious
I know this has been going around Pinterest for a while, but I can’t think of a better time of year to give it a try. No need to put anything on the stove, not even a pot of water. Check out the Ackermans at the market for local oats, and the Food Forest in Normal is bursting with berries that you can add as-is, or make into preserves.

Radish and Turnip Hash – The Kitchn
If you still have turnips taking up space in your produce drawer, (I do!), here’s a good and tasty way to use them up.

Lunches:

I found these at the grocery store last week while shopping for lunches and snacks for my office while absolutely HANGRY.

I was intrigued! Veggies I hadn’t thought to put together, chopped and raw, with just a small packet of salsa and some cheese, and you microwave them to soften and mix. They weren’t bad! But there’s no reason I can’t make these at home, since they involve no pre-cooking at all.

 

My version of the southwest nourish bowls is below. This made 7 portions, and I plan to add some chicken to them for lunches.

Ingredients:
1 sweet potato, diced
1 kohlrabi, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 bunch kale, chopped medium-fine
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 jar (about 2 c.) corn & black bean salsa

You could also add egg or meat or tvp, for more protein (I brought some cheese to add to this one).

 

Other easy, packable lunches include:

Smashed Chickpea Salad – from ‘wichcraft, via Smitten Kitchen
Great on toasted bread, but untoasted would also work in a pinch, especially if you have something crusty like a baguette.

Hummus with Tomato and Cucumber – Smitten Kitchen
If you’re in the market for some pita bread to go with the hummus (and the dip below), check out local baker Chad Sanders’ pita at the Garlic Press or the Downtown Bloomington market — delicious!!

Smoky Eggplant dip – from David Liebovitz, via Smitten Kitchen
I like to do the eggplant on the grill, whole but with slots cut in the outside to stuff whole cloves of garlic into. Throw it on the grill after your meal has cooked, but before you turn the gas off. Leave it while you’re eating, just check on it before you reach for that second bratwurst. When it’s all wrinkly like this, blackened in a few areas, you’ll know it’s done. Set aside until it’s cool. Really — don’t try to handle it until at least after dessert and you’ve played a couple board games or watched a good movie. Scoop out the insides, and proceed with the recipe as written. I feel pretty confident you’ll thank me for the grill+garlic tip. It’s that good — and a totally different way to enjoy eggplant.

Add grilled chicken to any or all of the above, and you have a pretty flavorful lunchbox!

 

Dinners:

I’ve been making a lot of zoodles lately. Well, they’re almost zoodles… but really just thin-sliced zucchini, since I don’t own a spiralizer. Just saute them in a pan with some olive oil and pesto or tomato sauce (or even just some small tomatoes!) until they’re softened, then add some parmesan cheese on top when serving. Cook them like vegetables, but flavor-wise, treat them like pasta. Very tasty, one-pot, and not too time-consuming.

There’s another zucchini-reliant dish I’ve been meaning to try for literally YEARS. I don’t know why I keep putting it off, but as soon as I get my hands on more squash, I’m making New Mexico-style Calabacitas. It’s a summer squash-corn saute with a little tomato, green chiles, cream and cheese. It’s mostly veg; the recipe above calls for 2# of squash and 2 c. of corn, and just 2 T butter, 1/4 c. half and half, and 1 c. grated cheese (both of which are optional).

With all the giant heirloom tomatoes available now, I’m planning to try this caprese quinoa casserole from Delish very soon. It makes use of lots of tomatoes and basil, garlic and shallots, and only takes a few more ingredients (quinoa, mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar). I grew up on cheeseburger pies, and I like that this is a sort of refined version of that. Though now I’m thinking about cheeseburger pie, and if you want to try it, here’s one from Chowhound that looks easy; and one from Food.com that looks like what my mom made (though we used shelf-stable pie crust sticks, which maybe don’t exist anymore? I haven’t seen them in ages). With all the local beef available here, and the broad customizability of this recipe, I should put these recipes into more of a regular rotation, I think!

Unloved Veggies: Eggplant

At the market yesterday I spotted a riot of beautiful, colorful, almost chocolate-hued eggplants and brought home…several. My husband took one look at this (artfully arranged) aubergine convention on the counter and said, “I will eat one meal with that.”

A lot of people feel this way about eggplant. In fact, we’ve had more requests for eggplant help than any other veggie. Many vow that this is the one item in the CSA share that will always be left on the “trade” table. Far be it for me to tell people what they should like, but I’ll try to suggest some preparations that might pique your interest in this very versatile vegetable.

Eggplants come in many varieties. At the market you may spot them in shades of the deepest purple or edging closer to lavender; you can find shapes that are akin to that of zucchini squash and also squat, stout ones. (Ask your farmers to tell you about the ones they grow!) You, like me, might buy them for their sheer aesthetic qualities, and then wonder what you could possibly make with it that your family members will actually eat.

Eggplant’s meaty texture adds great volume and depth to a dish. (Having said that, I think one complaint is the eggplant is mushy – solve that problem by cooking it briefly or gently or just not too much.) I like it best with strong flavors – smoky or garlicky and especially anything that includes tomatoes and tomato sauce. (You’ll find endless ideas for eggplant by exploring Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.)

Eggplant easily adapts to any flavor profile – to me it’s one of those “canvas” veggies that you can project anything onto.

A friend who has spent a good deal of time in Spain suggests grilling eggplant whole and unpeeled on top of smoldering coals (not on the grill grates – right on the coals! You need to use hardwood lump charcoal for this – not regular charcoal). I love this because it involves no actual prep work – no slicing or oiling or anything. My kind of prep.

You could also grill-roast the eggplant for baba ganoush.

Where I grew up, lots of Greek families run family-style restaurants (“Coney Islands,”) where you can find homemade moussaka on the menu alongside Coney dogs (“coneys”), Greek salads, burgers and all-day breakfast. Greek cuisine is also known for vegetarian variations like this one.

We had big plans to grill a bunch of things tonight in preparation for weeknight meals, including eggplant – and we plumb ran out of time and energy. (True story: we went out for gyros.) But I wanted to prep this pile o’aubergines on the counter for use later. I like adding roasted eggplant chunks in a quick pasta meal, for instance, and if it’s already cooked that’s a bonus. Also, if I didn’t roast them tonight (remember, my kitchen counter held enough to feed a family of 12) I might not make them at all. Worst case, I can roast and freeze them, because in the middle of January I love being able to pull summer veggies out of the freezer for lasagna.

Before roasting, I like to pull out some of the moisture in the eggplant by sprinkling it with salt (let it sit for 30-60 minutes before roasting – the photo above shows just how much water gets pulled to the surface when you do that). Right now, I have a casserole dish of roasted eggplant slices ready to go into a quick weekday dinner

Eggplant is a fantastic vegetable to layer in lasagna; you could also make a beautiful eggplant terrine with zucchini and feta (that’s late summer in a dish, right there). It is a team player in any kind of casserole.

I tend to get a bit myopic when it comes to eggplant, focusing on the westernized menus. But eggplant actually came from the east, and there are no shortage of options when you look for uses in Asian cuisines. This stir-fry is on my list to try. The food writer Mark Bittman intriguingly suggests that you microwave (quick and easy! Not soggy!) eggplant in this south Indian curry.  Since we are in the quick-and-easy vein, try this 30-minute curry from Rachael Ray.

Let’s hope I managed to make this unloved veggie a little more enticing.

Enjoy!