Third Time...Charm

Eggplant. Or, if you prefer, aubergine. Your thoughts?

For the majority of my six decades, I have loved the color...hated the vegetable. Mostly on general principle...on both counts. And, until this year, I've never tried to grow eggplant in my garden. Why grow something you have no intention of eating, I ask you?

Truth be told, Missy M is the reason I have changed my ways. She has met very few veggies that she will eat, but she grows a great variety in her Secret Garden. Gives most of her harvest away to friends and coworkers. Doesn't let the fact that she will not consume it keep her from trying to grow it. She's my inspiration.

So, this year, I found room in the tomato-and-pepper row for one lone Black Beauty eggplant transplant. Put it in the ground, put a tomato cage around it, and immediately covered it with a piece of summer-weight row cover to protect it from the myriad of insect pests that seem to adore the plant. It looked like it was in quarantine from Day One.

I was so excited when the first shiny, purple fruits began to appear! And then I had my first cause for pause: when are eggplants ripe? Hmmmmm. Had to look that one up...and then take a chance. Here's what The Veggie Gardener has to say on the subject:

There are a couple factors to consider when deciding to pick eggplant:

Size – I like to pick my eggplant when they get to be a little bigger than my hand. As with other vegetables, it is better to pick eggplant when they are young and tender. Picking them early will also encourage the plant to grow more, and will help to extend the growing season. The eggplant does not have to be those behemoths you see at the supermarket.

Shine – An eggplant is ready for the picking when it gets a nice reflective sheen to it. Grasp an eggplant you might think is ready, and carefully hold it up to the light – if it appears to be very shiny, it is ready.

  
The first ripe beauty was sliced, breaded, and fried. Fried eggplant. That's how I remember Rena Belle fixing eggplant for Daddy. Uh, no. To be fair, it could be that I am a lousy fryer: I don't like to fry things because you have to stand over the skillet and constantly tend to the contents...and it makes such a big mess to clean up afterward. Whatever...I didn't like the results. Strike one.

The next two ripe eggplants were also sliced, but they became part of the layers of a lasagne. Unh-uh. Didn't work for me or Mr. T, who was home for this experiment. To be fair, I probably should have steamed the slices a bit before introducing them into the middle of a dense stack of ingredients, as they were judged too tough to eat, even though everything else was fine. T removed his eggplant layer and tried to feed it to the dogs. The Bassets were wise, but there's always Abbie...she'll eat anything, right? Apparently, not a fan of eggplant. Swing...and a miss. Strike two.

Now, if I can claim any trait, it is that of persistence. I'll keep trying long past when common sense may have led another to throw in the trowel, so to speak. But, that lone eggplant plant was again producing fruit after a brief respite during the hottest, driest days of August. So, I had to give it one more go.

The Kitchen Garden is currently in transition from warm season to cool. I'm writing about that over on my garden blog, Gardening With The Giants. (Click here to go there.) While we have said goodbye to many of our faves like beans, cukes, squash, and most of the tomatoes, we are still enjoying the taste of Summer with okra, peppers, and...you guessed it...eggplant. Here's a picture of today's harvest, below.



See that gorgeous shiny purple eggplant? With those peppers and the Sun Gold tomatoes, I could just imagine a tasty stir-fry (recipe below) was in our immediate future!

And guess what? We loved it...ate every bite...filling and taste-bud-tickling! It was a home run!! 
As "they" say, third time IS the charm.

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Recipe

Beef-Pepper-Eggplant Stir-Fry

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 pound beef round, cut into 2-inch strips
2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium-sized fresh eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 bell pepper, cut into strips
2 carrots, thinly sliced on diagonal
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced on diagonal
1 onion, thinly sliced in rings
3-4 cloves garlic, diced
1 jalapeƱo pepper, thinly sliced (opt.)
10-12 cherry-type tomatoes
2 tablespoons salted peanuts (opt.)

Sauce: 1/2 cup beef broth or stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Hot, cooked rice

Directions:

1. Marinate beef strips for 15 minutes in a zip-top bag with the 2 T. soy sauce, 2 T. rice wine vinegar, and 2 T. cornstarch. Prepare all vegetables. Prepare Sauce by whisking together listed ingredients and set aside.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large wok over medium-high heat; cook and stir eggplant cubes until softened, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate to rest.

3. If needed, add more oil to wok and heat over medium-high heat: cook and stir beef strips until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Move beef to plate with eggplant.
4. If needed, add more oil to wok and heat over medium-high heat: cook and stir (in the following order) bell pepper, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic until tender-crisp.
5. Add beef and eggplant into other vegetables in the wok, and then add tomatoes and peanuts. Season with Sauce. Continue to cook and stir until vegetables are tender and Sauce has thickened, about 2 more minutes.

6. Serve over bowl of hot, cooked rice. Enjoy!

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