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Sonoma County Gazette

Awesome Aubergines

Jun 1, 2018


By Kelly Smith

June is the beginning of summer and the time of year when all of our favorite produce starts rolling in. It’s a sight to behold and one that only gets better as we ease our way into long summer days.

Eggplants make their arrival in June and continue through October. Some call them Aubergine, which comes from the French. Eggplant is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers.

Eggplants were introduced by Arabs to Europe and then transported to Africa by the Persians. The Spaniards carried it with them to the New World where by the early 1800s both white and purple varieties could be found in American edible gardens.

According to the American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening -- Vegetables, “A 5th Century Chinese book contains one of the oldest references to eggplant. A black dye was made from the plant, and ladies of fashion used it to stain their teeth - which, when polished, gleamed like metal.”

In Turkey, “imam bayeldi,” a tasty treat of stuffed eggplant simmered in olive oil is said to have made a religious leader swoon in ecstasy. In Italy, people believed that anyone who ate the “mad apple” was sure to go insane. The Italian name, melanzana, is derived from the Latin for ‘bad egg’. When first introduced to Europeans, cousin to the ‘poisonous’ tomato, was believed to cause insanity, hence the moniker ‘mad apple’.

More often you will find the standard eggplant which is an oval or pear-shaped, glossy, purplish fruit 6 to 9 inches long. Some farms like, Rize Up Farm from Petaluma, grow the Japanese variety which tend to be elongated and slender with a thinner, more delicate skin.

When choosing eggplants, pick those that are heavy for their size with skin that is smooth, shiny, and brightly colored. To test the ripeness, gently press the skin with your thumb. A ripe eggplant will spring back and not leave an indentation. Unwashed eggplant can be stored in a cool place or inside the refrigerator crisper for up to 5 days.

Eggplant Caviar

3 small or 2 medium eggplants

1 t olive oil, plus additional for the pan

2 t fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic or shallot, minced

1/2 t smoked or sea salt

1/8 t chili pepper powder

2 T chopped fresh mint, parsley, cilantro, or basil


Brush a baking sheet with olive oil and sprinkle it with a bit of salt. Preheat the oven to 400ºF

Poke each eggplant with a sharp knife and rest them over a gas flame on the stovetop, or a grill, turning them infrequently with tongs, until charred on the outside and feel soft and wilted. Roast them for 5 -10 min.

When cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise and place them cut side down on the oiled baking sheet.

Bake until the flesh is thoroughly cooked, about 20 min.

Remove from oven and scrape the pulp from the skins into the bowl of a food processor or mash them by hand with a fork.

Add the tablespoon of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic or shallot, salt, and chili pepper powder.

Pulse the food processor a few times, until the mixture is almost smooth. Add the herbs and pulse a few more times.

Taste, and add additional salt, lemon, or other seasonings, as desired.

To serve, spoon into a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour a bit of olive oil in the middle and sprinkle with chili powder, sumac, or some chopped fresh herbs.

Storage: Eggplant caviar can be kept refrigerated for up to five days.


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