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edible Monterey Bay Summer 2015

Growing Eggplant Following harvest, the fruit of the eggplant gets increasingly bitter and does not keep well, so growing your own is well worth it if you live in a warm enough microclimate. Eggplants like a lot of heat and need to be grown where temperatures hover between 75 and 85 degrees in the day, and nighttime temperatures stay above 65 degrees. To prevent disease, choose a spot for seedlings where other nightshades haven’t grown for two or more years. Eggplants need full sun, good drainage and a fertile soil. The plant can be put in the ground as late as June, with seedlings 24 inches apart and fed with a rich, organic fertilizer. Fruits should be ready to harvest between 70–85 days, depending on the variety. The plants also yield pretty foliage—and were in fact first grown in Europe for ornamental reasons. Choosing and Preparing Eggplant Look for eggplants that feel heavy for their size and have shiny skin and no blemishes, which can indicate rot is beginning. Stems should be bright green and the texture of the fruit should be firm but springy. While you may have read about efforts to introduce GMO eggplants in India and Pakistan, they are not commonly grown in the U.S. Still, buying organic ensures that your eggplants— or any other crops—are not GMO. Store eggplants in a cool, dry place and try to eat them within a few days to avoid bitterness. When chopping eggplants, use a stainless steel knife since carbon steel types can cause discoloration and a bitter aftertaste. It is also best to chop them right before using since they tend to oxidize and discolor quickly. A good method for removing excess water and bitterness from an eggplant is to slice it and salt the pieces. Let them sit for a few minutes or even a few hours, until you see drops of water coming out of the flesh. At this point, they can be patted dry with towels, or rinsed, drained and then patted dry. (The fresher the eggplant, the less bitter it will be and the less it will need this step.) Eggplants are well suited to braising, frying, grilling, roasting, sautéing and stewing and can be incorporated into diverse ethnic meals www.ediblemontereybay.com 21 I used to live deep in the country where, when in desperation for a meal, I would go to the corner market run by Middle Eastern identical twins and get a fabulous jar of pickled eggplant that was stuffed with peppers, walnuts and feta cheese and swimming in olive oil. Along with some crusty bread and a bottle of overpriced wine, the eggplant made a delicious meal. Pickled eggplant aside, fresh eggplant is one of my favorite cooked summer vegetables. Its substantial meatiness and versatility easily make it the center of any meal. Hundreds of eggplant varieties grow in diverse sizes, shapes and colors all over the world, helping make it a staple of Asian and Southern European cuisine. Cooking and enjoying dishes from these regions can feel like a summer travel experience in itself, bringing back memories if you’ve spent time in Greece or Italy. And traditional eggplant preparations from the Mediterranean in particular can connect us with some of this area’s early settlers, such as the Sicilians who made Monterey their home. (See story, p. 36.) Eggplant is thought to have originated in India, and then was first cultivated in China in the 5th century BC. Solanum melongena is now a highly prized vegetable in Mediterranean countries, but it took many centuries after its introduction—along with breeding out much of its bitterness—for it to gain popularity. (At one time it was even thought to be poisonous or cause madness, hence the Italian name melanzana, which has been interpreted to mean “insane apple” or “bad apple.”) The eggplants commonly found at local farmers’ markets can be broadly categorized into Western, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Thai varieties. Western: Black Beauty, Black Magic and Black Bell are common varieties within this category of large, plump, pear-shaped eggplants with dark purple skin and spongy, cream-colored flesh. The most popular eggplant in the United States, it is ideal for stuffing, sautéing, baking, grilling and making the dip Baba Ghanoush. Once cooked, the flavor is sweet and delicate, and the texture absorbs liquids—and seasonings—easily. Italian: This group includes Rosa Biancas and Listada de Gandia, which range from rose to lavender in color and in some cases have white stripes, which are referred to as Sicilian eggplants. The fruits of these mild heirloom varieties are 5–6 inches long and because they retain their shape when cooked, are ideal for baking or roasting. Chinese: These are long and slender, miniature varieties of eggplant, typically bright violet or pale violet in color. When cooked, the skin is soft and the meat inside is sweet, which makes them delicious paired with basil in a stir-fry. Japanese: Similar to Chinese eggplants, Japanese eggplants are 6–8 inches long and slender, with a thin skin and sweet, delicate flavor. The usual color is dark purple, but they can also be lavender, pink, green and white. This is the variety most often found in Asian dishes and is frequently stir-fried, grilled, sautéed or pickled. Thai: Ideal for curries, this type is round and slightly larger than a ping-pong ball. It comes in three colors; brilliant yellow, green with light green stripes, and purple or lavender with green stripes. It has a tough skin with a seedy interior and a strong flavor. In contrast, the Thai Long Green variety is thin, light green and has white, almost seedless flesh that is tender and very mild and sweet. Health and Nutrition Anyone who is addicted to Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar’s famed eggplant fries may not be surprised to hear that eggplants are in the same plant family—the nightshades—as tobacco, and that they contain more nicotine than any other vegetable. But truth is, you’d have to eat 20 pounds of eggplants to consume the nicotine found in one cigarette, and a lot of the offending compound would be broken down through cooking and digestion anyway. In fact, where carcinogens and cancer are concerned, eggplants—particularly their purple skin—come out firmly on the beneficial side, as they are very high in cancer-fighting antioxidants. They are also high in fiber, low in calories and have the potential to reduce cholesterol levels. They contain significant amounts of vitamins A, B and C as well as folate and the minerals copper, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Photo by Geneva Liimatta


edible Monterey Bay Summer 2015
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