Down at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, my usual foraging turf, I find a number of local gems. Ringger Family Farm, located in Bastrop County, makes soap with milk from their own herd of sustainably raised goats and grows beautiful jewel-like little eggplants. I can’t get enough of their lavender and white striated, friendly-flavored finger-length delights. And the cute, round, green and white-striped Thai orbs are a crunchy sweet treat when quickly stir-fried. These folks also grow “tame” jalapenos for those of us whose capsaicin tolerance has been weakened by the proscriptions of our brood.
I could probably eat diced eggplant fried in olive oil almost every day in season. Thankfully they are not available locally year round—although I anxiously await the first harvest at the beginning of every summer. Before frying, I toss eggplant cubes with a little salt and some turmeric and let them sit for a few minutes. After cooking, I refrigerate the used oil for sauteing veggies or brushing onto tortillas for quesadillas.
Here’s a vegetarian meal in a skillet that takes advantage of our local bounty of eggplants:
EGGPLANT CHICKPEA PILAF
- 1 cup basmati rice–I like the Indian and Pakistani brands in the large fabric bags.
Rinse the rice well in three changes of water, then drain and soak in about 1 1/2 cups fresh water for 10 minutes. Drain in a sieve, reserving soaking water and adding enough to measure 1 3/4 cups water.
- 8 small, slim, gorgeously young and fresh eggplants, beheaded and and quartered lengthwise.
Toss the eggplant pieces with about 1 teaspoon turmeric and a generous pinch of kosher salt
- 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, preferably organic (Whole Foods and Central Market offer their own brands at good prices), drained. Don’t bother to rinse the beans. Jacques Pépin doesn’t.
- 3 or 4 Tablespoons oil or ghee. I like organic coconut oil, of course.
- 6 whole cloves
- 2″ piece of cinnamon stick
- 2 black cardamom pods (or 4 green), slightly crushed with the handle of your kitchen knife
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 0r 2 whole dried red chiles
- 1/4 teaspoon kalonji (nigella), optional
- 1/2 teasoon asafetida, optional
- 1 medium-sized white onion, sliced thin
- 1 whole green jalapeno, optional
- 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled or ground in a mortar with a pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander (seeds)
- 1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar
- 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
Heat oil and whole spices (through kalonji) in a 12″ skillet on medium-high heat. Fry spices until browning and fragrant, then add asafetida and quickly dump in the onions. Cook the onions, stirring and adjusting the heat as necessary, until browning agreeably. Add the eggplant pieces and the whole jalapeno and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant is browned. Add the drained rice and garlic. Continue cooking and stirring until the rice grains separate and lose their translucency. Add the drained beans and the remaining ingredients plus the reserved water and turn the heat to high to quickly bring the mixture to a boil. Give it a final stir, turn the heat to low, and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes before fluffing and serving. Don’t eat the whole spices. Remove them from the pan if you have the opportunity–otherwise just warn your diners.