Eggplant of a different color

on Monday, July 26, 2010

The eggplants are coming! And I've a feeling you'll be getting some you're not used to seeing in the grocery store!

Some of the first things you notice when you're in the garden with different varieties of eggplants is the different colors of the plants themselves. Just check out the colors of the stems of these different types!

And it's not just the stems - even the leaves look very different...

I'm having a very good year with eggplants - now that I've found how much better they do in the raised bed gardening vs the in-ground bed where so many things languish for me. Still, most eggplant plants only seem to produce one or two fruits at a time... This one variety, however, is doing something different. It's called Raveena (and wait til you see what the fruits look like!) - and it's setting buds almost like a cherry tomato does - where you get a lot of flowers all at once, which means you also have a good chance of having more fruit set all at the same time...

Eggplants also seem to have some of the prettiest flowers when it comes to vegetable gardening. And again, just like with the stems and leaves, the flowers are very different. For the most part, it seems like the ones with the darker purple stems and leaf veins are flowering like this:

...and those with the lighter purple stems/leaf vein color are like this...

...and so, yup, you guessed it, the ones that are very plain/normal looking with the stems and leaves have plain ol' white flowers. Still, they're quite pretty!

Remember the cluster of flower buds on the Raveena eggplant? Well, here's what it looks like when the plant's starting to set fruit!

Yup, those long, pale green things are eggplants! Many of you may have only ever seen the big fat dark purple (bordering on black) eggplants. Those are traditionally Italian eggplants, and are handy for slicing into thick rounds that are used in recipes like eggplant parmesian, or into large thin slices that are rolled around other ingredients before baking.

My problem with the really large Italian style eggplants is it seems like you won't get as many per plant, and there's more risk of something "going wrong" before harvest. If I can plant something that'll crank out lots of smaller, faster fruits, or larger, slower-to-develop fruits, and it's a plant where you risk a bitter taste if you hit an extremely hot/dry spell, I'll go with the faster fruit set and shorter harvest periods!! This is why I grow the Asian and French varieties more than the Italian varieties. (Note: I love really big tomatoes that take longer to develop/ripen, but you don't have to worry about tomatoes turning bitter like you do eggplants).

The picture above shows a "white" eggplant still developing, while the picture below shows another one of the celery-green Raveena eggplants forming in the background, and a couple okra (also of a pale variety) in the foreground.

While some of the varieties I'm growing are dark purple, they're intended to be harvested at a smaller tear drop or oval shape, and some are actually long and slender (like the green ones).

And then you get beautiful speckled and striped varieties as well, with different shades of purple, violet, and lavender.

Take note - SOME of the varieties of eggplants will actually have very small, but VERY sharp, spines on the calex, or that green part that covers the stem-end of the eggplant fruit. That's where the flower initially formed and got pollinated. I guarantee you - those spines are SHARP - so just be careful!

Some recipes will call for salting eggplant slices before cooking them to remove any bitterness. I'm hoping to pick all of these guys before they have a chance to get bitter. I have had the very first of the variety you see in the picture directly above actually be a little bitter - did the soil get too dry? did I let the fruit get too big? I'm not sure...hopefully that won't happen again!

To cook eggplant, I'll usually slice it, lightly oil and season it (salt, pepper, any grill-seasoning blend you like, lemon juice, herbs - whatever you want!), and grill it - either on skewers, in a grill basket, or if the pieces are big enough to not fall through the grates, just loose on the grill. It's great with other grilled summer veggies like summer squash/zucchini, which you know is starting to come out of the garden now.

Another popular use of eggplant is the middle eastern spread, baba ganoush. Now that's a recipe that calls for a lot of roasted eggplant all at one time - but if these plants really start cranking out the eggplants, keep it in mind!

And something I like to do when the garden's cranking out lots of random veggies at once is to just start throwing things in a skillet and sauteing them together in a big mess. I consider it sort of a ragu...? I'll start with things that maybe need a little more cooking time (onions) or benefit more from a quick fry in the olive oil (garlic) before adding other things that'll cook down and make it more soupy/saucy (eggplant, squash, tomatoes, okra). Don't forget to chuck in some herbs while you're cooking up this mess - and then eat it as is, stirred up with pasta, or perhaps even spread on a thick slice of bread. It's a little different every time, but soooo tasty!

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