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Groundwork: An Eggplant Convert

The late-season garden at Green Spring Gardens in. (Adrian Higgins -- The Washington Post)

Way back in February, when the year's vegetable garden was something merely to anticipate, I gave a lecture on vegetable gardening at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria and, though I didn't know it at the time, threw down the gauntlet. I said one of the reasons to grow your own veggies is so you can choose what to grow and eat. Moreover, you could choose what not to grow and eat, and then I rattled off three veggies I couldn't abide:

* eggplant (somewhat hard to grow, bland and sometimes bitter);
* summer squash (easier to grow, but bland and sometimes bitter), and
* chili peppers (a vegetable for testosterone victims).

Recipe Included

Cindy Brown was appalled that I would disparage eggplant, in particular. She invited me to an eggplant tasting, which duly occurred on Thursday and changed my view of this lamented relative of the tomato.

But first, let's see what's happening now in the vegetable garden, which is far from done for the year.

The lima beans are coming into their own, the cowpeas are still producing and the tomatoes are still ripening, albeit more slowly in the cooling nights. Radishes, sown a month ago, are robust and fresh. Cindy and the gang are growing Asian varieties, which tend to be cylindrical and large compared with the globular French breakfast varieties, and they are hot, too. Cindy likes to eat the radish greens, but the larger ones should be sauteed first. Spring-sown leeks can be harvested between now and the end of the year, and early- to mid-fall is a perfect time to take carrots and turnips sown in August.

Cabbage Verza de Verona, battered by the cabbage worm, dusted against it, but still heading up nicely. (Adrian Higgins -- The Washington Post)

The gardeners started cabbages and Brussels sprouts from seed in July and put out the transplants in late August. They are both doing well, the cabbages are beginning to head and the sprouts can be seen in the leaf axils, but both have been mightly attacked by the cabbage worm. The gardeners have dusted them with a powder containing Bt, which is a natural bacterium that kills the young caterpillars. It is less effective on the older ones. Cindy has become an expert in spotting them and picking them off. In spite of the heavy damage, the cabbages (Verza de Verona) are heading with a vengeance.

After a tour of the garden, we repaired to the library at Green Spring, where I was forced to sample seven eggplant based dishes prepared by Cindy and her colleagues or volunteers at Green Spring. All were delicious, I readily admit. They included clam-stuffed eggplant, eggplant chili, eggplant a la Meyer (thin slices brushed with egg yolk and topped with melted Parmesan and Colby cheeses) and an Asian seafood eggplant medley of scallops, shrimp, soy sauce, sugar and Asian chili paste, among other things.

The last of the eggplants, which dwindle in the cold. Note the extensive flea beetle damage to the leaves. (Adrian Higgins -- The Washington Post)

Cindy prepared an eggplant stew, but my efforts to describe it wouldn't do it justice. Suffice to say, it was delicious -- full of lovely textures and flavors.

All the dishes relied on sauces and spices and other ingredients to pep up the eggplant, but the poor, maligned eggplant added texture and flavor that basked in the reflected glory of its companion ingredients.

As far as I'm concerned, the plant is fully redeemed. If only we could do a better job of keeping the flea beetles at bay.

-- Adrian Higgins

Clam-Stuffed Eggplant
6 servings

Adapted by Gaye Mara; from "The Chamberlain Sampler of American Cooking," by Narcisse Chamberlain and Narcissa G. Chamberlain (Hastings House, 1961).

3 small eggplants (softball-size)
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 medium onion chopped (3/4 to 1 cup)
1 to 1 1/2 cups herb-seasoned stuffing mix, such as Pepperidge Farm brand
14 ounces canned baby clams, with their juice (may substitute cooked chopped clams)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Leaves from 3 to 4 stems flat-leaf parsley, chopped (2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and score the flesh with a few shallow slashes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the eggplant halves cut-sides down. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick shell. Chop the eggplant flesh.

Use paper towel to wipe out the oil from the skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and return to medium-low heat. When it has melted, add the onion and cook until it has softened, then add the chopped eggplant, 1 cup of the stuffing mix, the clams and their juice, the egg, parsley and herbes de Provence. Season with salt and pepper to taste; mix well to blend the ingredients and warm through, then use the mixture to fill all 6 of the eggplant shells.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter (in the microwave or in the same skillet used to cook the eggplant), then add the remaining 1/2 cup of the stuffing. Toss to combine, then sprinkle it evenly over each of the stuffed eggplants. Top each one with some of the Parmesan cheese, then bake (uncovered) for 30 minutes, until browned. Serve hot.

By Adrian Higgins  |  October 12, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Groundwork , Recipes  | Tags: Green Spring Gardens, Groundwork, cabbage, eggplant, radishes, turnips  
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Hi Adrian,

I love reading all of your garden writing. I'm a huge fan. So, inspired, I started my own garden blog this year called Garden Putter and I wrote about eggplant recently. I hope you'll check it out. Beth

Posted by: sspringmom | October 12, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

For a different idea, I love making eggplant Indian style. Prick whole eggplants (unless you like exploding eggplant surprise) and put in the oven until the flesh is cooked. Scape out the eggplant and set aside.

Fry onions, chile peppers and spices in vegetable oil or ghee until browned. A teaspoon of garam masala along with some turmeric and cayenne powder works well. Add the eggplant along with a can of coconut milk and malt vinegar to taste. Cook and serve with rice.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | October 12, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm also a recent eggplant convert after discovering this curried eggplant recipe:

I make this every Sunday and wind up eating it for at least 5-6 more meals throughout the week.

Posted by: nicoleindc | October 14, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

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