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Archive for the ‘Eggplant’ Category

Ajvar accolades

Among gardeners, there is so much hype surrounding tomatoes. Yet I prefer to watch peppers grow and ripen, finding the changes in color somehow more exciting. The same amount of space in my garden is devoted to each of these vegetables this year, but the two pepper plants – both gifts – are stealing the show. The red pepper plant is a Styrian heirloom variety, Ochsenhorn (ox horn). All peppers – including bell and chili – belong to the species Capsicum annuum. Like tomatoes, they are nightshades that originated in the Americas.

Last year I had one container with one eggplant plant that produced just one fruit. I couldn’t decide what to do with it. I couldn’t bear to pick it because it was My First Eggplant and I wanted to admire it just a bit longer. I was so proud. It was so beautiful.

The first frost came and went, and, well, let’s be honest: it was clear that the eggplant had passed its prime and that I had missed the time window to harvest it. Plan B: I decided I would leave it as an offering to the vegetable gods so that this summer, I would not be plagued by aphids as I was last year.

This must have appeased the vegetable gods because this year I have had few problems with aphids. But a variation of the same story is unfolding this summer on my balcony; my red pepper plant has only produced one fruit this year. Though unlike last year, this one is going to be harvested and eaten with relish!

The second pepper plant is producing numerous hot chilis despite the fact that it is still growing in the plastic container I received it in. The fruit will eventually turn orange, and then I will come to a new crossroads in my culinary career at which an important decision must be made.

I have never cooked with fresh chilis because I am afraid of unconsciously rubbing my eye after cutting a chili pepper and blinding myself or of some other freak accident occurring along those lines. Doesn’t this sound familiar to the reasons I came up with for not making jam on my own? Should I take the plunge and overcome my irrational fear of chili peppers? They’re a lot smaller than me, after all. It can’t be all that difficult, can it? Maybe it’s even as easy as making ajvar.

An accessible yet august ajvar

Ajvar, a vegetable relish made of roasted peppers, eggplant, oil, and garlic, is widespread throughout the Balkans. Most recipes call for a pepper-eggplant ratio of 2:1 or 3:1, which I ignored since I just had one of each to spare. The name comes from the Turkish havyar, meaning caviar. I brought it to share at a gathering the other day and was amazed at how many compliments I received for something so simple.

Ingredients

1 eggplant

1 red pepper

3 garlic cloves

1 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs chopped walnuts

¼ ts salt

cayenne pepper or chilis to taste

Cut the eggplant and pepper in half lengthwise. Place face down on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes at 180°C (350°F) or until the skins have black spots.

Let the vegetables cool down. Remove the skins.

In a food processor, purée the vegetables, garlic, oil, walnuts, and salt. Some like it hot, and if you’re one of these people, add cayenne pepper or chilis to taste.

Serve on pitas, Turkish Fladenbrot, foccacia, or a similar bread of your choice. Ajvar goes well with goat or sheep’s cheese and olives too.

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Solarium melongena, better known in English as eggplant (or aubergine, or brinjal), is the only nightshade growing in most vegetable gardens that did not originate in the Americas. Tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes all spread from west to east. Eggplant, however, was first cultivated in India before its range was extended by the Arabs to include the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. Europeans north of the Alps were initially very wary of this fruit, believing it caused insanity, calling it mala insana, or mad apple.

Though a staple vegetable in Indian cuisine, in the Ayurvedic tradition it is classified as a tamasic substance (like tobacco, alcohol, and garlic) that benefits neither the mind nor the body, withdrawing energy and clouding the powers of reason. In fact, eggplant is related to tobacco and contains nicotine, though in much smaller amounts: you would have to eat 9 kilos of eggplant to ingest the amount of nicotine in one cigarette.

Three American presidents are associated with eggplant. President Thomas Jefferson introduced eggplant to the United States, importing seeds from Europe and sowing them at Monticello. President Andrew Johnson’s favorite food was eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, onions, breadcrumbs, and celery, while President Warren G. Harding liked his sliced, baked, and marinated in mayonnaise, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire and chili sauce.

As for me, I like eggplant caviar, pasta with eggplant and fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, and the following casserole.

Eggplant casserole with creamy tomato-walnut sauce

Ingredients

1 kilo (2.2 lbs) eggplant, peeled and sliced into thin rounds or rectangles

Olive oil

2 onions, diced

3-5 garlic cloves, minced

3 tomatoes, diced

2 ts nutmeg

Fresh basil

2 Tbs crème fraîche

4 Tbs ground walnuts

300-400 g cheese of your choice (I have used a mixture of Topfen and fresh sheep’s cheese as well as just mozzarella )

Fry the eggplant in the olive oil until cooked through. Transfer to a large rectangular baking dish.

Sauté the onions and garlic until translucent. Add the tomatoes, nutmeg, and basil, cooking several minutes until the tomatoes are done. Stir in the crème fraîche and walnuts.

Spread the sauce over the eggplant. Top with the cheese.

Bake at 200°C (400°F) for 20-25 minutes.

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Giuseppe Arcimbaldo (1527-1593), a court portraitist who served 3 Hapsburg kings in both Vienna and Prague, is best known for his paintings which depict a human head using fruit, vegetables, animals, and other natural objects that are related to the subject of the painting. For example, Water (1566).

Ratatouille is a dish made of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, and onion stewed in olive oil with various herbs. It arose in the area near Nice at the end of the eighteenth century.

Both Arcimbaldo paintings and ratatouille are composed of disparate elements that retain their distinct form.

Ratatouille à l’Arcimbaldo

3 Tbs. olive oil

1 onion, diced

3-5 garlic cloves, minced

1 eggplant, diced

1 ts salt

1-2 ts cumin

½ ts cinnamon

¼ – ½ ts cayenne pepper

black pepper

several sprigs of savory

1 zucchini, diced

a handful of cherry tomatoes from the garden

fresh basil

125 g fresh sheep or goat cheese, crumbled

150 g (1 cup) couscous

Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add the eggplant, salt, spices, and savory and cook covered until the eggplant is tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the zucchini and tomatoes and cook another 10 minutes until tender. While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the couscous. Bring 125 ml (1 cup) water to a boil. Add the couscous. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit 5 minutes.

When the couscous is done, add to the stew. Mix in chopped fresh basil and the cheese.

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