Whether or not it was actually true, as a child I felt that I spent the majority of my free time at Chinese restaurants eating with my family and enjoying dim sum, especially over the summer when all my cousins were in town. It was during one of these long lunches that I had my first introduction to eggplant via my mom and grandma, who ordered dishes of Chinese eggplant stuffed with shrimp and tofu. Although I don’t remember specifically the first time I tried it, I do recall that I did not like it; between the soft mushy texture and slight bitterness, eggplant -at least prepared in that manner – was not anything I was interested in. My childhood experiences stayed with me and even as I got older I avoided eggplants of all varieties so I was skeptical about how well this month of experimenting with my long-time foe would go. After four weeks, I can officially say that I’m a convert and I’m totally, completely, and utterly in love.
Eggplants are relatively low in calories but high in nutritional value and contain fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B-6, which can all support healthy heart/cardiovascular function as well as play a preventative role against cancer. After eating it regularly for the past month, I’ve also found that eggplants can be quite versatile as well and the first step in learning to love eggplant is learning how to prepare it.
While I wouldn’t call eggplant high maintenance per se, it does take a bit of time and prep work, namely for the salting process that helps remove some of the excess liquid and bitterness of the vegetable. It’s quite simple actually -after cutting the eggplant to your required proportions, salt the surface and place the eggplant in a colander for a few minutes, which helps draw out some of the bitter juices. After this, you can rinse and pat dry your eggplant. Again, it’s not a lot of work but it is necessary work, especially if you’re like me and have an aversion to bitter flavours. There will be some recipes that call for you to peel the eggplants as well, and if you have some digestion issues go ahead and follow those steps because the skin is quite tough. However, if you can avoid it, keep the skin on as that’s where most of the nutrients are, which is true of most things.
Anyway, moving on to the fun portion – the cooking and the eating.
I began my foray with a bit of trepidation so I was cautious in my inclusion of eggplant but the more I used it, the more versatile I found it to be. Even recipes that don’t call for eggplant are getting a bit of aubergine-love now because I like the creaminess and depth of flavour it adds (plus I have a lot of it). Through my experimenting, one thing I’ve learned is that eggplants and tomatoes make good bedfellows, and that’s a positive thing for me considering my recent obsession with the latter. Over the last few weeks, I’ve made a ratatouille-inspired vegan dish with eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers which was nutritious, filling, and SO GOOD (plus quite inexpensive), and my own version of this beauty that wasn’t quite as pretty but arguably equally delicious. However, I guarantee you that a quick Google search will probably reveal several more ideas.
Truthfully though, after a dozen recipes, I have to admit that my favourite way of eating eggplant is fried, which I know is probably also the most unhealthy method but it’s so good (I even strong armed a friend into ordering them at dinner once). Eggplants are quite substantial so they hold their shape and can handle themselves well. They’re wonderful as dips (I liked this one but the consistency is a bit light for me, so I’m still playing around), incorporated into salads and pastas, and even as the star of the show.
My second companion for the month -artichoke- did not fare nearly as well. For such a small vegetable artichokes certainly pack a nutrient-heavy and vitamin dense punch, contributing to good overall health (their benefits are so plentiful that I’m not even going to write it out and am including links here and here) so while the health benefits are clear, my relationship with them is a bit mixed.
I think I looked at one too many Pinterest boards or was feeling super fancy when I wrote my initial post but for some reason I thought “hey! I bet I’ll love these”. I don’t know, I didn’t grow up eating artichokes other than in dip and after spending some time with them, my opinion of artichokes can be summarized by a resounding “meh”. It’s not that I dislike them, it’s mostly that they’re a lot of work, trimming and washing, for not a particularly high return (the business side of my brain dismisses them because of their low ROI). Do I yield better returns with full size artichokes rather than the baby artichokes I bought or is it more work for equal results? I’m not sure and perhaps I haven’t given them a fair shot.
With that being said, I stumbled on a beautiful batch of baby artichokes and tried out this recipe which served as a nice snack on Sunday afternoon as I cooked and half-heartedly watched Netflix but I’m not entirely sold. I’ll definitely order artichokes in restaurants but realistically, they won’t become a staple in our household. I’m glad these prickly gems are now on my radar because they’re healthy, delicious albeit labour intensive, and lend themselves well to decorating, livening up tablescapes, but in terms of diet I don’t think they’ll be making quite as regular of an appearance as I first thought.
Anyway my first month of season cooking was a lot of fun and definitely informative, so I’ll be continuing this practice in September, although I haven’t decided what my featured foods will be yet. Stay tuned!