One of the intrigues of gardening is that no two years are alike. Even if we planted the same vegetables on the same dates, differences in weather and other factors outside our control would give us different results.
As it happens, most gardeners are probably set in some of their ways say, whether to stake or cage tomatoes but still willing to experiment by trying a few different varieties every year.
I'm one of those. I know which varieties of vegetables work in my garden. But because I'm also open to new suggestions, I sometimes plant the new next to the tried and true. Occasionally, this occurs by accident.
Such was the case with my eggplant this year. When pulling seedlings out of the flat at the greenhouse this spring, I inadvertently mixed in Millionaire with the more common Black Beauty. I didn't realize my error until I got home to plant.
Eggplant has been sort of an ongoing challenge. It has never grown well for me and in most years has been a magnet for flea beetles. By this time most years the leaves on my plants are riddled with tiny holes and I have emptied a shaker of rotenone onto my plants. The yields typically have not been worth the effort, but the fact that growing eggplant isn't easy has sort of egged me on.
This year, however, I have the beginnings of a bumper crop, and the two wayward Millionaire plants are the main reason. Millionaire produces long, dark fruits on absolutely gorgeous 2-foot plants. The leaves are dark green and the stems and leaf ribs a deep purple.
And what's more so far, no flea beetles. When I started using pepper spray on my garden as a deer repellent, I also sprayed the plants the deer won't eat including the eggplant. I had heard that pepper spray also was a deterrent for chewing insects and wanted to put it to the test.
After about five weeks of using the spray daily, I can attest that pepper spray has been more effective against bugs than vegetarian mammals. I have seen only four stink bugs and no flea beetles, squash bugs or cucumber beetles. I can't offer a report on Mexican bean beetles, because the deer acquired a taste for pepper spray after about two weeks' abstinence and polished off my bean crop.
But, hey, I have eggplant!
Whenever you cook with eggplant, remember to salt the slices or chunks first. Let them sit for 30 minutes, then rinse the eggplant thoroughly and squeeze out the remaining water. One of my Middle Eastern cookbooks suggests doing this to make the eggplant more pliable in recipes that call for rolling the eggplant around filling, but we Americans do it to remove the bitter flavor.
One of the easiest recipes for eggplant novices to make is the spread Baba Ghanoush, which is to eggplant what hummus is to garbanzo beans.
The recipe below is from Martha Rose Shulman's "The Vegetarian Feast."
Another good recipe is Badendjel Meloui, a stuffed eggplant dish, from Copeland Marks' "The Great Book of Couscous."
Salt, rinse and squeeze the eggplant before using it in these recipes, even though that isn't spelled out below.
2 pounds eggplant (about 2 large)
juice of 2 lemons
2 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons sesame tahini
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 green or red bell pepper, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut the eggplants in half and score the cut sides with a sharp knife down to the skin but not through it. Place the eggplants cut sides down on an oiled baking sheet and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until skins are charred and shriveled. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
If you like the charred taste of the eggplant skin, leave it on; otherwise, remove it. Discard the seeds and blend the eggplant, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, yogurt, tahini and cumin in a food processor. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the tomato and bell pepper.
Transfer the puree to a bowl and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with pita bread.
Makes 2 cups.
2 large eggplants (2 pounds), ends trimmed but not peeled
3 tablespoons oil
2 large potatoes (1/2 pound), peeled, quartered, boiled until soft and drained
5 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small onion, chopped fine (1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup tomato puree, fresh or canned
1/4 teaspoon ground caraway
Slice each eggplant lengthwise into 5 or 6 slices. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large skillet and fry the slices on both sides over moderate heat for two minutes. Drain on paper towels and lightly press out the oil. Set aside.
Mash the boiled potatoes. Add the parsley, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, cinnamon and turmeric. Mix well and set aside.
In a pan, mix the tomato puree, caraway and a few sprinkles of salt and pepper and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Set aside.
Take a heaping tablespoon of the potato stuffing and press it into a cigar-shaped cylinder. Place it on one end of a slice of eggplant and roll it up. Put it into an unoiled baking dish. Repeat with all rolls and stuffing.
Pour the tomato sauce over all and bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.
Makes 4 to 5 side-dish servings.
When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.