DAKOTA GARDENER: Gardening leads to global adventures in cuisine
The summer of 2020 was a great year for growing eggplant in the northern Great Plains.
Blessed with abundant heat during the middle of the summer, this tropical plant with origins in India produced bountiful amounts of shiny, purple eggplants. Having mastered the science of growing the plant in the garden, the next challenge was to prepare this exotic vegetable creatively to encourage a skeptical husband and a picky teenager to eat it.
Drawing from Italian cuisine, I made eggplant parmigiana for my family. This dish features slices that are battered, fried in oil and then layered in a baking dish with mozzarella, Parmesan and marinara sauce. The entire dish is baked just like lasagna. After having consumed two whole pans in a short time frame, my family begged me to stop with the rich cooking.
Faced with an impending early season freeze, I harvested the rest of my beautiful eggplants. Having Midwestern roots, I didn’t want to waste the fruits of my labor. After donating two-thirds of my harvest to the NDSU Extension Master Gardener Veggies for the Pantry project, I vowed to use the remaining one-third in a more healthful but creative manner.
After perusing the internet, I stumbled upon baba ghanoush (also spelled baba ghanouj), a Lebanese appetizer or dip that is similar to hummus. The phrase is incredibly catchy!
My family has long enjoyed baba ghanoush from a Mediterranean restaurant in town but had never attempted to prepare this dish because we had assumed that it would be complicated. Surprised by the recipe’s simplicity, I spent an evening roasting eggplant in the oven, scooping out the flesh, and combining it with garlic, lemon juice, tahini (ground sesame paste), olive oil, salt and spices in the food processor. My family enjoyed the baba ghanoush on pita bread and used it as a dip for vegetables.
The purpose of this column is not to teach you how to make baba ghanoush but rather to encourage you to go beyond your comfort zone when you plant your garden next year. Consider growing kale to make kale chips or baby bok choy for an Asian stir-fry. Planting novel vegetables will make for some interesting and potentially internationally inspired dinners.
If you decide to grow eggplant next year, here are some horticultural tips to ensure success in the garden:
If growing from seed, sow the seeds indoors six to eight weeks before planting outdoors.
Transplant into the garden in late May or early June when night temperatures are consistently above 50 F and the soil is warm. Eggplant is even more sensitive to cold temperatures than tomatoes.
Eggplant may grow better in a container than a garden because the soil remains warmer.
Maintain even soil moisture to prevent blossom end rot.
Monitor for and manage flea beetles.
Harvest while the skin is still shiny; a dull or bronze-colored skin denotes that the eggplant is overripe and bitter-tasting.