What to Do with All Those Eggplants

eggplantsThis year’s unusually warm, dry spring and hot summer have made for my best eggplant harvest ever. I’ve had plenty of eggplants to pickle, to make gallons of ratatouille for the freezer, and to experiment with eggplant spreads.

Eggplant spreads are popular around the eastern Mediterranean and in eastern Europe. Besides the famous Levantine baba ganoush, made with tahini and lemon juice, there are the Russian baklazhannaia ikra, which combines eggplant with onions and tomatoes, and the Romanian zacusca, which adds red peppers to that mix. In Bulgaria, kyopolou (or kiopolo, or kiopoola) flavors roasted eggplant with garlic, parsley, green peppers, and sometimes tomatoes. Moroccan zaalouk seasons eggplant and tomato with cumin, paprika, garlic, olive oil, and usually a little lemon juice. For ajvar, from Macedonia and Serbia, roasted red peppers are the primary ingredient, and some people say eggplant doesn’t even belong in the mix. But all of the many ajvar recipes I’ve found include it.

These spreads are usually eaten on bread—flat bread, dark bread, or whatever bread is locally favored. The vegetables are usually put through a meat grinder or mashed in a mortar (or a blender or food processor) for a smooth texture, but they may instead be chopped coarsely to serve as a salad.

eggplants, peppers, & tomato ready for roastingThe eggplants are always best roasted over a wood fire, for a smoky flavor, but when I’m in a hurry I use a hot oven, as in the recipe that follows. This recipe is basically one for Bulgarian kyopolou, except that I use ripe, red peppers instead of green ones and add a little toasted cumin. A mouthful of this rich mash silences every friend who asks, “What do you do with all those eggplants?”

Eggplant-Pepper Spread

¾ pound eggplant(s), stabbed with a fork in several places
½ pound fleshy, sweet red peppers, such as corno di toro
1 3-ounce meaty tomato
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon ground toasted cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the oven to 500 degrees F. Lay the eggplant(s), peppers, and tomato in a foil-lined roasting pan, and roast them in the oven, turning them occasionally. Remove the tomato after 15 to 20 minutes, when it has partially softened and the skin has split. Remove the peppers after about 30 minutes, when their skins have shriveled and darkened in spots. Take out the eggplant, if you’re using a single large one, after about 40 minutes, when it has blackened on the outside and completely softened on the inside. Smaller eggplants will probably be ready at about the same time as the peppers. Cover the hot eggplant(s) and peppers with a damp cloth, and let them steam for at least several minutes.

eggplant mash???????????????????????????????Peel the eggplant(s), peppers, and tomato. Chop them, and put them into a bowl. Add the parsley, garlic, vinegar, salt, black pepper, and cumin. Stir and mash the mixture together. Add the olive oil, and mix again. 

Serve the spread right away, or refrigerate it, covered, until mealtime.

If you miss the smoky flavor you’d get from a wood fire, try adding a little smoked paprika.

eggplant spread on breadAccompanied with bread and some cheese or sausage, this mash will serve four for lunch.

A Fool for Pickled Chard

I finally got around to pickling chard stems again last week, when I needed to dig out several big Swiss chard plants so I could start next year’s garlic crop in a raised bed. These plants were of the Bright Lights variety, with its assortment of beautiful yellows, pinks, and reds.

Bright Lights first proved me a fool me last spring, when the plants had grown about two inches tall. I had expected to find all the various colors on a single plant, as with a capsicum plant whose fruits change according to individual timetables from green to yellow to orange. Not so with the chard. I found some seedlings with yellow stems, and others with pale pink, beet-red, or white stems. Obviously, a farmer sells a multicolored bunch of chard by banding together stems from various plants. Someone with a very small garden who wants multicolored chard may have to choose one color for herself and share other seeds or seedlings among her friends, with the hope that they can trade full-grown stems later on.

Bright Lights turned out to be just as stringy as plain old white-stemmed chard. I was fooled again in the kitchen as I pulled off the strings; as with most rhubarb varieties, the color on those pink, yellow, and red stems is only skin deep, and much of it comes off with stringing. My Bright Lights had dimmed before the pickling began.

I made the pickle as in my prior post on this topic, except in a quart jar this time. The next day I thought I would take a picture of the pretty jar, but now, strangely, the contents appeared uniformly pink. Tipping the jar, I saw that the top ends of the chard stems were all the same color, a very pale pink. Fooled again! The chard had given up its color to its pickling liquid. I might as well have pickled a jar full of white-stemmed chard and slipped in a small slice of beet.

Bright Lights chard in all its lovely colors is still growing strong in the main garden. Until the rains drown the plants or the cold rots them, I’ll search for other ways to bring their beauty to the table.