Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Eggplant Voyage 2006

Before beginning my carefree yak about eggplant, it must be said that while we are reading and writing and eating, people--people just like us-are suffering terribly. In Lebanon, in Iran, in Iraq and Israel. Innocent people, unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Across the world, women who know more about eggplant than I can ever hope to have lost their kitchens. Or the sons and husbands they cooked for. It is impossible to write about this staple of middle-eastern cuisine and not think about that.


I spent this morning over the stove. Saturday night's chicken, reduced to meaty bits and carcass, was tossed into the stockpot. To soothe my non-Bourdainian belly, I prepared a small pot of jook, which is Chinese rice porridge. My mother says that while pregnant with me, she ate mostly Chinese food. Perhaps this is why when I am depressed, or suffering from tummy woes, I crave Chinese food. So I ate the jook, stirred the stock, and turned my attention to the eggplant in the fridge.

Hockeyman and I are lucky enough to belong to Full Belly Farm's CSA. This means every Friday, on the way to work, I stop at a nearby house and pick up a box of organic vegetables.

Belonging to a CSA means being introduced to a lot of new veggies: easter egg radishes, daikon radishes, Tokyo turnips, yellow beets, fresh edamame beans. And we like most everything....except eggplant.

I am convinced our dislike of eggplant is the result of culinary failure on my part. It was in that spirit that I wrote "Fear of Eggplant", which appears below.

So today, commencing eggplant voyage 2006, I am preparing Molly O'Neill's Tuscan Marinated Vegetables. Here is O'Neill's recipe, from "A Well-Seasoned Appetite", Viking, 1995, p.115

Tuscan Marinade

2 cups red wine
2/3 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons minced sage leaves
4 teaspoons minced rosemary leaves
4 teaspoons black peppercorns, crushed
2 teasoons kosher salt

Combine all ingedients in glass or ceramic bowl. Refrigerate up to three days.

I sliced eggplant, yellow squash, and shallot into a glass baking dish. The original recipe calls for onions, which Hockeyman hates. ( Fortunately he has other good qualities. Like masterminding this blog. ) It also called for tomatoes, which we don't have yet due to the heavy spring rains. Anyway, I poured said marinade over all. It smelled nicely of herbs and red wine. It is supposed to marinate in the fridge for eight hours, with one turn. You are then supposed to grill the vegetables, assuming you live in a place where grilling is possible. I do not, so will broil.

Will provide follow-up report tomorrow.

Fear of Eggplant

It is mid-June. The weekly veggie box I receive from Fully Belly Farm is, finally, beginning to feature the wonders of summer produce: the first zucchini, slender carrots, new potatoes, soft, intensely fragrant garlic. The farm newsletter, only recently full of weather-related laments, now promises the first cherry tomatoes. Last Friday brought the year's first batch of basil, promptly turned into pesto.

But the plethora of vegetable wonders will soon include the one farm standby whose appearance, in generous brown bagged quantity, elicits apprehension.

I am talking about eggplant. Or, as Elizabeth David calls them, aubergines.

I don't know why it is I cannot master this beautiful vegetable. I have faced down okra, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and knobby, dirty celery roots with equanimity, paring and scrubbing and cooking them all into delicious dishes. But the eggplant, with its bitter skin and slimy seeds, is just plain unfriendly. It does not take well to butter, white wine, or simple salads. Feed it a drop of your expensive artisanal olive oil and it demands half the bottle, repaying the cook by becoming sodden and inedible.

Last summer the farm sent eggplant for weeks: Italian, Asian, Thai. White, green, striped. I roasted a few in the oven, splashed them with olive oil, and promised myself I would eat them--in sandwiches, over pasta, mixed with rice. I did not, and guiltily avoided them until they spoiled. My husband, normally an adventuresome eater, refused to finish my maiden attempt at ratatouille.

I have consulted my cookbooks. Laurie Colwin wrote an entire essay devoted to eggplant, calling it "the stovetop cook's greatest ally." In Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison devotes seven pages to eggplant and its fellow travelers in cuisines Mediterranean and Italian. Elizabeth David, of course, adores the aubergine. An intrepid cook might spend a lifetime apprenticed to her countless aubgerine preparations. My 1997 edition of The Joy Of Cooking offers a gentle selection of recipes--caponata, eggplant parmagiana, ratatouille. Paul Bertolli, in Chez Panisse Cooking, advises a preliminary baking in water, allowing the bitter juices to leach out before preparing the final dish--in this case, baked eggplants and tomatoes with bread crumbs and basil.

So as the sun breaks through the fog layer permeating the San Francisco Bay, bringing with it tomatoes, basil, and piles of eggplant, I will set myself the task of mastering this mysterious vegetable. I will overcome my trepidation and prepare Bertolli's dish. I will make Deborah Madison's Eggplant Rounds with Cheese and Red Wine Tomato Sauce, perhaps sneaking in a bit of ground lamb to pacify my meat-loving husband. I will roast eggplants in the oven until they collapse upon themselves in silken heaps, mashing their softened innards with olive oil and roasted garlic.

And I will be richly rewarded, for eggplant represents everything wonderful about cooking. There is the challenge of the new, of overcoming resistance to create something wonderful. The acquisition of knowledge. The sense of accomplishment that accompanies mastering the unknown, an experience that can only make life richer. And, of course, more delicious.

Works Cited:
1. Colwin, Laurie. Home Cooking. Harper Perennial, New York. 1993: 27.

2. Madison, Deborah. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Broadway Books, New York. 1997: 368.

3. Rombauer, Irma S., Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker. The Joy of Cooking. Scribner Books, New York. 1997.

4. Bertolli, Paul, with Alice Waters. Chez Panisse Cooking.
Random House, New York. 1988: 94.


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