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Gardening with Gael - Eggplant always an eyecatcher


eggplant-167My friend Adrienne swept down from the north last week bearing gifts from her garden. Among the array of fruit and vegetables were two plump shiny aubergines or eggplants. Google tells me that the name eggplant came from a time back as far as the 1700s when European versions were smaller, and, yellow or white rather like a goose’s egg. Hence the name eggplant. In other parts of the world they can also be called brinjal or melongene. 

I love them. In fact it is going to be very hard with this article not to slide into recipes… maybe one or two. I remember a member of my family who had just been picking ticks off the cat, when faced with an aubergine for the first time shrieked “Ugghh it looks like a giant tick” and it has been hard for me not to think that when I see their round glossy skin.

Aubergines (solanum melongene) belong to the nightshade family along with potatoes, capsicums, tomatoes and tomatillos. They are intolerant of cold weather and so here in the north we can plant them any time after Labour Weekend. They are ready to harvest in 12 to 15 weeks. They like a soil rich in nutrients. Compost, sheep pellets and seaweed are all ideal additions.

The one we are all most familiar with is the round to oval shape dark skinned ‘aubergine coloured’ vegetable. There are also smaller finger shaped aubergines which are purple with white stripes. I have bought some at Fresh so I know they are grown locally. This variety is called ‘Asian bride’. Full Moon farms have a vegetable stall just inside the gate at the new Tavern Market and have organic aubergine for sale. I bought a beautiful little round one there last Saturday. Vegetable stalls at both markets have them and also our local stores. 

What to do with them? I slice them quite thinly across and spread them across some paper towels. Sprinkle salt over the slices and leave them for a while. The salt softens the flesh a little and causes it to absorb less fat. Aubergines can tend to soak up fat. I dry them off, dip them into flour, then egg and then panko breadcrumbs and fry.  They are delicious. I love them with tzatziki.
During our time in Greece I learnt many ways of cooking aubergines. Called melitzanes I learned to make an eggplant dip (melitzanosalata), moussaka (melitzanes moussaka), a dish where the eggplants when cut lengthwise and stuffed resemble a pair of shoes called Little Shoes (papoutsakia) and my other favourite stuffed eggplant (imam bayildi). The literal translation is ‘the priest fainted’ because the dish was so good. This dish uses the long thinner eggplants and it is delicious.

This Christmas our daughter Jozie made a gluten free vegetarian cannelloni by slicing the eggplants longways and rolling them around ricotta cheese. A vegan alternative is to wrap the eggplant around tofu and of course cover with a delicious tomato based sauce.

Native to India and South East Asia eggplant/aubergines are popular in the cuisines of many cultures throughout the Middle East and Asia. The first known mention is from China in 544 AD. As their popularity increases I am sure they will find their way into everyone’s vegetable patch.

Eggplant has a tender meaty texture that soaks up other flavours when cooked.

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