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!

Summer Fizzy Drinks: Spirited Version

This post was largely inspired by the Briar Patch cocktail, and the blackberry-chile syrup that is responsible for the bulk of its flavor (101 Cookbooks). It is everything good about summer, to my mind: fresh, sweet (but not too sweet), hot (but not too too hot), fruity and fizzy, and as boozy (or not) as you want. The cocktail, which originally called for blackberry simple syrup, features bourbon, lemon juice, maple syrup and bitters (plus egg white if you like it shaken and foamy — I don’t, so I leave it out). It’s riff on a Maple Leaf, I suppose, with a smoky-hot twist!

 

This is just one of many cocktails that you can make using local berries and herbs; if you haven’t thought to make your own syrups or infusions before, we have some suggestions for getting started!

Some recent posts I’ve been admiring on this subject:

by Stacey Spensley (via Flickr)

From Food and Wine, the Garden Elixir features cilantro and celery in variation of the gin martini. They also add green Chartreuse, apple juice, and lime juice to bump up the green. Don’t worry if you don’t keep Chartreuse on hand; it’s very distinctive and certainly adds to this cocktail, but it’ll be delicious without it as well. I’d definitely go with a little fizz on this one, maybe using lime soda instead of the lime juice, but it’s up to you.

 

Pepino’s Revenge, also from Food and Wine (via Wolfgang Puck) uses cucumber and basil in a margarita-like tequila cocktail — SO refreshing on a hot day!

 

via Pexels.com

From The Spruce, try a blueberry martini!! Making the juice is as simple as blending the berries (no need to strain, unless you want the juice to be clear).

Or try their Garden Patch Smash, which combines tequila, blueberries, raspberry-lavender syrup, lime, and lavender soda.

And, we couldn’t leave out the tomatoes… and neither could Serious Eats. They have a wonderful fresh tomato martini that absolutely wouldn’t be the same without that perfect local tomato. The recipe calls for tomato and vodka blended together, and then strained gently but thoroughly to yield clear tomato-flavored vodka. To 3 oz of this, you add 1/2 t. dry vermouth, and 1/4 t. white wine vinegar. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. It’s a bit unusual, but so summery and delicious.

Why not experiment with your cocktail recipes, and include some local ingredients? Let us know if you have a favorite!

 

 

 

Market Menu: July 22!

What’s available this week at the Bloomington market?

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING.

Tomatoes, jalapenos, cucumbers, beans, onions, potatoes…

This is the point in the year where the cooler-weather crops like greens begin to drop out for a while, the hens might stop laying for a bit, and the turnips get a nice spicy bite to them. HEAT!

I don’t know why, but I’ve started stir-frying everything I can get my hands on. Even kohlrabi, which I’ve only recently started enjoying. It’s fast and flexible, and if you add potatoes you can even skip the rice (and the second burner). So this week’s menu includes some easy stir-fry sauces and veg combos, along with a selection of cold salads and sandwich spreads. Enjoy all that local produce, and remember your farmers! Their workplace isn’t air-conditioned, and the rain has been hard to come by (though sweat is plentiful, in this weather!).

Sweet and Sour stir-fry sauce:

This is one I grew up with, and it’s so simple I’ve never forgotten.  1 part red or white wine vinegar, 1 part sugar. Mix and add to stir-fry when everything is just a little bit under-done. Stir to mix (and make sure that the sugar is dissolved). Separately, mix about 1 Tbs of cornstarch with about 1/2 c. COLD water. Bring your stir-fry up in temp so that the liquid is boiling (if it isn’t already), and add the cornstarch mixture. Stir and keep the heat on, until it thickens. Reduce heat to low and let stand (covered or uncovered) for about 10 minutes.

Thai Green Curry sauce:

This one makes use of green curry paste, which can be found at asian supermarkets and Meijers, and maybe soon at local groceries? I’ll keep an eye out, but let me know if you see it! This is the stuff in the small short can or small jar, not the large jars meant for simmering as-is. Again, once your mix of vegetables and protein are just under-done, mix about 2 Tbs curry paste and a can of coconut milk or about 1 c. yogurt, and add to the pan. If you’re using yogurt, it will break — but keep stirring, and it will start looking better (and it doesn’t affect the taste at all). Let simmer for 5-10 minutes on medium.

And, from Sweet Peas and Saffron, recipes for 7 sauces that you can make ahead, and even FREEZE!!

Pesky Veg?

Here are a few ideas for what to do with some of the less obvious seasonal vegetables:

Kohlrabi – you can eat them raw! Peel and cube, and keep in the fridge for snacks. Or blanch and freeze for later. I also hear you can sub or add them into any dish that calls for carrots or potatoes.

Eggplant – my favorite way to enjoy them is grilled or baked with lots of garlic. Slice them in half lengthwise, cut several slits in the skin and stuff a clove of garlic in, and roast at around 400F. When they’re soft inside (maybe 30 minutes?), remove from oven, let cool, scoop out the middle (including that garlic!) and puree in the blender or food processor with olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Delicious. Or use this recipe from Smitten Kitchen 🙂

By the way, Smitten Kitchen,  101 Cookbooks and Food52 are pretty much my first go-to sites for recipe ideas. Especially the first two, when dealing w/ seasonal vegetables.  Check them out if you’re ever in a pinch!

Market Menu: July 15!

Can you believe it’s mid-July already? So many weeks of the market, it’s hard to keep track without having a calendar handy. So we’re switching to dates in the title instead of week numbers.

I visited the farmer’s market in the adorable town of Port Townsend, WA last weekend, and there were some noticeable differences in available produce: cooler-weather crops like fava beans and radishes (since it’s still in the 50s-70s there!), and a large variety of currants. Market day was a “hot” one, which meant upper 70s, possibly low 80s in the sun. Dry as can be, though, which was a nice contrast to our current weather of 90+ F and 90+ humidity! The currants were lovely, and I might have been tempted to grab some and make a quick pot of jam, except that I knew there were currants waiting in the Refuge Food Forest here in Normal!

 

Back in Bloomington-Normal, our extended heat through July-August means several things for your weekly local farm and garden haul:

  • chickens may slow down or stop laying for a bit when it’s this hot, so you may have to ration those eggs!
  • cilantro and basil in your gardens will likely bolt, sending out seed heads that you can save and replant, or let nature do its thing and replant them for you.
  • lettuces are going to bolt as well; without a hoop house to keep the temperatures low, farmers can’t grow lettuce in this kind of heat. Give it some time, and you can replant in the fall.
  • provided they get sufficient water, your tomatoes are going to be happy and ripe!
  • chile peppers of all varieties are going to start coming with a fury! they love the heat, and give it right back to you in flavor 🙂

In addition to the Saturday morning market, you can also find local produce at Common Ground in downtown Bloomington, and Green Top Grocery just east of downtown on Washington Street. And just this week, Browns’ Produce opened their farmstand on Brown Street just off of West Market — be sure to stop by!

This Week’s Menu:

I’m feeling like salads day and night right now, and other things that are FAST and require little tending on the stove. Here are a few of my favorites:

Slightly Savory Granola – an unusual granola recipe from the NY Times, made with olive oil! It’s a tad addictive, especially with yogurt. I used to buy Traderspoint Creamery yogurt in Indianapolis, but haven’t found a new local favorite yet — recommendations always welcome!

Lemony Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza – From Smitten Kitchen, and a perfect way to use those ever-growing zucchini, and the amazing chevre from Prairie Fruits Farm

Beet Salad w/ Plums and Goat Cheese – From Bon Appetit. Peaches would be just as delicious, of course.

Summer Pasta with Olives, Roasted Peppers and Capers – Also from Bon Appetit. It’s a warm dish, but it honestly is just as good served cold as a pasta salad.

Eggy Polenta w/ Mushrooms – From The Kitchn, and a great way to incorporate local grain (corn — I know, not technically a grain) and mushrooms AND eggs! I’d be inclined to use those gorgeous duck eggs I’ve been seeing lately at the market… they’d be delicious!

Chicken Meatballs and Polenta – There are a number of different variations on this recipe; I like chicken instead of turkey, and kale makes a nice addition at the end to plate with the dish.

Spicy Coleslaw w/ Cumin-Lime Dressing – Bobby Flay’s NOT-creamy coleslaw is hot and delicious!

Cumin-Scented Black Rice and Quinoa – This recipe from Bon Appetit takes a little time to cook (the grains cook separately), but once made, it’s easy to reheat and enjoy through the week. You can add chunks of sweet potato, some greens and a little tahini dressing, and you’ve got a quick meal.

Is it gazpacho season yet? Are you drowning in tomatoes? If not yet, I’ll put this here for later. I generally make Mollie Katzen’s version, which is full of veg and herbs, but I’ve also posted the NY Times version above. Regardless of which recipe you use, make sure to let it rest in the fridge for a few hours before serving; the flavors take a little time to develop.