2014-08-21 / From The Garden

Aubergines Spice Up the Summer

By Cynthia Gibson

“Gretel,” a mini-white version, is only about four inches long. “Gretel,” a mini-white version, is only about four inches long. “Aubergine” is an attractive French word for the elegant purple vegetable we know as an eggplant. However, while the word denotes a rich shade of purple, eggplants are now available in many colors, shapes and sizes.

The classic varieties are “Black Beauty” and “Florida High Bush.” These are the typical, almost black eggplants seen in supermarkets. They are quite easy to grow and make the best parmigiana, as well as moussaka, a classic Greek dish. Large eggplants are good for grilling as well. Slice into quarter-inch discs, slather them in extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and a twist of freshly ground pepper, and toss them on the grill. You will not be disappointed in the creamy taste with a hint of hickory smoke.

This summer, the eggplant in my garden is quite different from the large varieties. “Gretel,” a miniwhite version, is only about four inches long. It might sound tiny in terms of mouthfuls, but once it starts growing in your garden it is prolific! One plant can easily have five to eight dangling white vegetables that look like fingers.

Planted next to Gretel is “Ichiban,” a Japanese strain that is intriguing in its appearance and color. It grows to be approximately 10 inches long and is very dark and slender. Japanese eggplants tend to be sweet and not as tough as larger ones.

Like the tender white and lavender colored varieties, Gretel and Ichiban can be cooked with their skins on, even though we are accustomed to removing the leatherlike skin of bigger eggplants with a potato peeler.

Native to the subcontinent, eggplant is known as the “king of vegetables” in India. China is now the largest producer and joins Sicily and the Almeria region of Spain as a major growing area. Turkey and Japan also produce large crops. Throughout Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, eggplants are staples of household and restaurant menus.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. All of these countries feature the vegetable prominently in their cuisine. Each gives the dish a special touch with hints of different herbs.

If you like Indian food (and I do not mean dinner party curry), this recipe for Punjabi Baingan Bharta is for you. It is excellent with rice or as an accompaniment to roasted chicken. Punjab, located in northwest India, is known for unique vegetarian dishes.

Punjabi Baingan Bharta

Serves two

1 large eggplant (aubergine,
baingan) or three Japanese
1 medium-sized onion,
coarsely chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 hot green chili, remove
seeds and chop
1/2 inch fresh ginger
root, peeled and finely
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds, ground
1/4 tsp. red chili powder
1 tsp. garam masala
1/4 cup coriander leaves,
coarsely chopped (cilantro)
1 clove of garlic, minced
3 tbsp. olive oil
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a large cookie sheet lined with tin foil and spray with oil. Slice the eggplant in half and place face down on the oiled sheet. Bake the eggplant in the oven for twenty minutes or until the skin starts to bubble. Remove from the oven, let it cool, and then peel if you are using large domestic eggplants (the large-sized supermarket varieties). Once peeled, chop into bite-sized cubes.

Heat a skillet with olive oil over medium heat. Place the onion and spices in the pan. Cook the onion until it is transparent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chopped chili pepper. Stir constantly for another five minutes. Add the tomatoes, ginger, and eggplant. Cook the mixture until the tomatoes and eggplant are very soft. This should take another 10 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and add salt if you like. Sprinkle the top of the eggplant with the coarsely chopped coriander leaves. Serve over rice or with naan, a special Indian bread that we are now lucky enough to find in the bakery sections of our supermarkets.

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