This is my first blog for CapeCodToday.com. I am excited to join this popular website community and to contribute commentary and weekly articles about food in all its different forms. You will find me more than willing to express my opinions and point of view and hope you will share yours as well. Mostly I will be grappling with issues of health and flavor and the impact food and its production has on our everyday lives and on the environment.
You will find me sharing recipes from around the world with a particular bias toward Cape Cod where i am now living. I am discovering that this wonderful seaside community is filled with terrific cooks and restaurants and tourists as well, plus a refreshingly nautical perspective. Spending my early years in the landlocked State of Iowa, I am thrilled to be able to feel the local sea breezes and to experience the local fishermen heading out to sea. I will do my best to share these emotions with you on a regular basis.
Seniors will also occupy much of my time in this column-- focusing on what's tasty, healthy and affordable. I am trying to figure out what a "senior" is because I know I qualify but I don't feel old or cranky most of the time. Some of my commentary will cover Cooking Workshops, dishes and cookbooks I am enjoying throughout the seasons of the year. I hope you too will enjoy the seasons i will discuss and how they bring us extraordinary flavors and recipes year round.
On to my first blog post...
The Nightshade Superstitions about Eggplant
India is the birthplace of eggplant. But seldom do we see Indian varieties. In fact, many people assume that eggplant, which is actually a fruit not a vegetable, comes from the English who originally thought of eggplant as having an ornamental virtue rather than a culinary one. Its beauty is not to be under estimated but the numbers of ways eggplant can be prepared to eat are virtually endless. And the more I expore this lovely fruit the more I appreciate the multicultural possibilities.
This attraction to eggplant is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was thought to be poisonous being a member of the Nightshade family. It was thought to cause leprosy, insanity, cancer and an ill or bitter nature. Perhaps these notions continued to besmirch the reputation of eggplant because the fruit was found to contain an alkaloid—thought to aggravate gout and arthritis. People with these conditions were even told not to eat eggplants. The bitterness of eggplant may have compounded these biases but by the eighteenth century, eggplant had been developed that was less bitter. Yet people still are wary of eggplant. Old notions die hard and eggplant biases are no different.
The experience of Deborah Madison, the author of Vegetable Literacy, is informative. She has found that the astringency of eggplant is found most often among very mature seedy fruits. This is why recipes call for salting eggplant before cooking—a process that draws out the bitterness. Yet she discovered that salting was unnecessary when the fruit comes directly from her garden, or the farmer’s market, in contrast to eggplant bought at the grocery store.
Today we enjoy eggplant in many varieties from many parts of the world. The large purple Black Beauties of America are perfect to use for large slabs of filling and rounds to grill or fry in a skillet. Others seem to come to us from the farming acumen of Hmong farmers in Minnesota and California. They grow hard, round tennis ball size orange eggplants and purple and similarly sized purple and green striped fruits which tend to look like green current tomatoes called pea eggplants. Madison tells us she was told these pea shaped fruits are used in the stews of Somalis.
Other Asian varieties include Little Fingers picked when about 4 inches long; and are very sweet. Still other eggplants include the popular Fairy Tale, which is very small and delicious when halved or eaten whole in a stew. Still others are White and pale green Thai varieties; or the long purple, thin eggplants like the Ichiban, and the dark lavender Panting Long fruits.
We prepare this multitude of eggplant varieties in many different ways—fried, braised, baked and grilled. Recently I enjoyed a Japanese roasted version with red miso and melted finlandia cheese. Italian eggplant dishes are very familiar to Americans—such as Eggplant Parmagian, eggplant stuffed with mozzarella, eggplant terrine, and eggplant caviar among many others.
Chermoula is another version described in Ottolenghi and Tamimi’’s new cookbook, Jerusalem which is a North African paste that is brushed over fish and vegetables, especially eggplant. Then you drizzle with cold yogurt and a salty bulgur salad for an ideal vegetarian feast—a dish I will feature in a future column.
For now let’s turn our attention to another plate of grilled eggplant with tahini—yogurt sauce and pomegranate molasses crated by Deborah Madison in Vegetable Literacy. Drawn from the cuisine of the Middle East like Ottolenghi, Madison offers us a delicious way to gorge on the fruit of the season.
Grilled Eggplant with Tahini Yogurt Sauce & Pomegranate Molasses (Inspired by Ottolenghi and Tamimi, Jerusalem)
Tahini Yogurt Sauce --Makes a scant ¾ cup
Pound the garlic in a mortar with ¼ tsp. salt until smooth. Stir the garlic mixture into the yogurt, and then stir in the Tahini, mixing well. Taste for salt.
Prepare a fire in a charcoal grill. When the coals are covered with ash, place the eggplants on the grill rack and grill, turning as needed, until soft when pierced. The timing will depend on the intensity of the fire. Or cook the eggplants indoors on an asador to keep them from sitting directly in the fire. That way the skins will char and the eggplant will hold its shape, but not disintegrate. When the eggplants are tender, remove them to a bowl and cover with a plate. Let them sit for at least 10 minutes, and then peel off the skin.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and arrange them on a plate. Season them with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the surface, then the pomegranate molasses. Finish with the cilantro. Serve at room temperature. This is a keeper! The dish is easy to make and delicious to eat. Enjoy!