Eggplants are ready for harvest in the garden, and they are making their appearance in my CSA box too. Eggplants are beautiful, relatively easy vegetables to grow and delicious, diversely nutritious vegetables to eat.
One thing that’s captivating about growing eggplants is the fact that they come in a wide assortment of shapes, sizes, flavors, and colors to decorate the garden or create that favorite recipe.
Despite the fact that you’ll only find a couple different varieties for sale at your local garden center, there are many intriguing eggplant varieties you can start indoors from seed.
Eggplants can produce round fruits, fat and oblong ones, or slender and elongated fruits. The colors range from shades of purple, black, and lavender, to red, pink, rose, yellow, white, orange, green, and even multi-colored and striped eggplants. You can choose from tiny, marble sized varieties, right on up to giant zucchini sized eggplants.
In most parts of the country, eggplant seedlings should be started a couple of weeks ahead of tomatoes in the winter, and then transplanted into the garden a week or two after setting out tomato plants in late spring.
Eggplants provide generous amounts of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, copper and thiamin (vitamin B1). They are also a good source of vitamin B6, folate, magnesium and niacin.
Eggplants also contain phytonutrients such as nasunin and chlorogenic acid, the latter of which is one of the most potent free radical scavengers found in plant tissues. Chlorogenic acid is thought to be anti-mutagenic (anti-cancer), antimicrobial, anti-LDL (bad cholesterol) and antiviral.
Eggplants are among the few foods containing sizable amounts of oxalates. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. Therefore, anyone with sensitivity to oxalates or already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating eggplant.
Lastly, folks with arthritis should limit their intake of all nightshade vegetables (which also includes tomatoes, peppers and green-skinned potatoes). Researchers think there may be a connection between joint stiffness and solanine, the toxin in nightshades that makes them somewhat poisonous.
Selection and Preparation
It’s a good idea to peel large-fruited or white varieties as they can be more bitter than the other types. Also, before cooking, you should do what’s called “sweating” your eggplant.
After washing, remove the top (and peel, if you choose to do so), then cut the eggplant into whatever size your recipe calls for and place it in a colander in the sink. Salt the eggplant lightly and leave it alone for 30 minutes. Then rinse and use as directed.
Not only will sweating cut down on bitterness, but this technique will also prevent the eggplant from soaking up too much oil if you’re frying it.
1 Tbsp. nama shoyu (or if you can’t do soy, liquify 1 tsp. sea salt (or to taste), 1 Tbsp. fresh portobello mushroom and 3-4 Tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Peel the eggplant and slice into 1/8″ thick rounds on a mandolin—the top half has less seeds, but is usually smaller in diameter—about 1 inch down from the top is the sweet spot. You’ll need about 16 pieces at the eggplant, but a couple extra pieces for back-up isn’t a bad idea. This will only use about 2-3 inches of the eggplant, so you might want to think about a second recipe and using it in the next day or so.
Salt the eggplant for about 30 minutes to “sweat.” Rinse the salt off of the eggplant, pat dry, and place it in a large non-reactive, glass dish in a single layer if possible (overlapping slightly is fine).
Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pour over the eggplant. It’s a good idea to put a smaller non-reactive dish on top to weigh it down slightly.
Marinate for 1 hour, flipping the eggplant over half way through.
While the eggplant is marinating, add all of the filling ingredients into a Vita-mix or food processor, and pulse until the walnuts have broken down into very small pieces and have begun to stick together.
Check the seasoning and adjust to taste.
Remove the eggplant slices and pat dry.
Lay an eggplant round in front of you and add about 1-2 tsp. of the filling in the center, being careful to not overfill. Fold the top of the eggplant over the filling and press down firmly on the edges to seal the ravioli.
Place the ravioli on a dehydrator tray (We use the Excalibur.) and process about 6-7 hours at 105°F—flipping about halfway through. The edges should be crisp, but the filling moist inside.
Top with a favorite sauce, like the Red Pepper Sauce below.
Red Pepper Sauce
Makes 2 cups
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
2/3 cup basil, tightly packed
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pure water
Stevia, to taste (about 5 drops)
Put all the ingredients in a Vitamix or blender and blend until smooth and well combined.