Recipe Column: I’m not going to be an eggplant convert
“I’m going to make a convert out of you,” my co-worker Ellen told me one day last week. We were discussing eggplant and my thought to this comment was “Good luck there.”
I have always hated eggplant. And I use the word “hate” definitively. All other garden vegetables are welcome additions at my table but definitely not this one.
I can remember with distinct and disgusting clarity the first time I was required to eat a dish made from this vegetable. I was about eight years old and eggplant was a new introduction to our family’s garden. My mother purchased six plants and my Dad and I planted them next to a long row of beans. I watched in fascination as the shiny, purple, oblong globes formed throughout the summer months. They did look pretty but the first time my mother served this up to our family, I just couldn’t stomach it. The bland taste and slimy texture was not at all to my liking.
This was very unfortunate for me because growing up, the one steadfast rule at my family’s dinner table was that you ate EVERYTHING on your plate. And there was no turning it down either. If mom made it, you ate it. Period.
That summer I suffered through choking down eggplant at least twice a week and when the plants finally died in the fall, I was vastly relieved. However, the next spring, when dad and I were once again planting the garden, mom walked up with another cardboard flat filled with eggplants. I thought I was going to throw up. But as I sat in the newly tilled earth, digging holes for these disgusting anomalies, I devised an evil and cunning plan that until now has never been revealed.
I surmised that if the fruits of these plants came into harm’s way there would be no harvest. And no harvest meant no platters of these things included on the dinner table. So as the summer months progressed I kept an eye on the eggplants and when I saw a fruit forming I pinched it off.
However, this connivery did not go unnoticed by my father. “Something is destroying the eggplants,” he pronounced one night at supper. I flushed red and kept my head down, pretending to be vastly engrossed in my food. “Oh?” my mother asked with interest. “What’s happening?” “I believe it’s a rabbit or gopher,” said Dad. “They bite the fruit off and just leave it lay.”
In short order a small live trap was purchased and set up in the middle of the patch, and one gopher was captured and relocated to a different spot. The fact that my parents thought the problem was solved did not deter me from my mission, and it wasn’t long before more fruits formed and were once again pinched off. “Dang those critters,” my dad proclaimed as he looked over the little purple fruits laying withering next to the plants. Again the trap was set. Dad even used eggplants as bait.
Of course, nothing entered the trap and I continued my evil destruction despite my Dad’s perplexity. And this went on for a couple of more years until mom did not bring home any more eggplant plants and Dad came to a conclusion. “They just don’t do good in our garden,” I remember him telling a fellow gardening friend.
So I thought I was well rid of ever eating eggplant again until my co-worker Ellen asked me if I like it. I told her I hated the things but she assured me she could make an eggplant dish that would have me drooling. I had my doubts but I have tasted Ellen’s cooking before and it is delicious. “Besides,’ I thought. ‘Maybe as an adult my taste buds have changed.’
True to her word Ellen made me an eggplant dish one day last week. I took it home for supper, heated it up, studying it closely. It certainly looked and smelled delicious as it cooked but I could see the eggplant sticking through and my childhood aversion surged as strong as ever.
I’m a big believer in trying new things, especially food, and besides, I had promised my friend I would give her dish a go with an open mind, but the minute I put a piece of eggplant in my mouth and bit down, I determined I still hated the stuff. The dish overall was delicious but, well-it had eggplant in it.
The next morning as I drove to work I thought about the decision before me. Would I lie and sugar coat the whole thing and tell Ellen her plan had worked? That now I was an eggplant convert? Or would I tell her the truth? Come to find out I didn’t have to lie. Ellen is a good friend and knows me well enough to realize I wasn’t impressed.
However, I am going to include Ellen’s recipe for this week. I know there are plenty of eggplant loving souls out there and this recipe is a keeper for those. But as far as me ever eating eggplant again-highly doubtful. And I’d also like to take this opportunity to apologize to my father for all those years he had to go eggplant-less because of some “critter.” Sorry Dad.
Ellen’s Stuffed Eggplant
1 large eggplant
3 Tbs olive oil, divided
1/2 lb. ground beef
salt and pepper
1 small onion, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried basil
11/4 cups grated romano cheese, divided
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
2 small chopped tomatoes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut eggplant in half and scoop out the center, leaving enough meat inside the skin so that it holds its shape when baked. Boil the scooped-out center part until very soft, about 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium sautè pan, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Add the seasoned ground beef to the pan and sautè the beef begins to brown slightly. Drain. In another pan add the remaining olive oil and sautè the onions, peppers and garlic together. In a bowl mix together the cooked eggplant, vegetables, cooked beef, herbs, 1 cup of the cheese, bread crumbs, and the egg. Fill the scooped-out eggplant halves with this mixture, dividing it evenly among the 2 halves. Top with chopped tomatoes and the remaining 1/4 cup of grated cheese, season with salt and pepper, place on an oiled oven tray or baking dish, and bake for 30 minutes, or until eggplant is soft. Let cool briefly before serving.