Bountiful, Versatile Eggplant

Farmers Ned and Marta Whitlock. Dan Lane photos

The Whitlocks grow vegetables and fruit on 28 acres, harvest six days a week, and ship up to 200 pounds of produce to O’ahu weekly.

Some of what they grow: Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cherry tomatoes, citrus, curly kale, dragon fruit, eggplant, fennel, green beans, herbs, joi choi, Lacinato kale, lemon grass, lettuce, longan, lychee, around 30 varieties of mango, okra, papaya, radicchio, rambutan and taro.

EGGPLANT

Native to India, eggplant has been cultivated in Asia since prehistory and was once considered poisonous in America. The fruit is botanically classified as a berry and belongs to the nightshade family. There are many varieties including round, golfball-sized Thai, elongated Japanese and heavy, oval Italian. They range in color from violet to striped, magenta, green, yellow, white and black.

Season: In Kaua’i’s subtropical climate, eggplant grows year-round. Cool and wet weather slow growth. Eggplant can take up to five months to grow to maturity.

What to look for:

Heavy fruit with smooth, shiny skin. Gently press the fruit, if it gives a little, it’s ripe. Avoid ones that are hard, dull or discolored. The older the eggplant, the tougher the seeds.

Freshly picked organic Italian eggplant

Storage:

Eggplant deteriorates quickly, so for best results use immediately. Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator where it will keep for a few days.

Tip:

Eggplant soaks up oil. One way to avoid this is by salting. Salting also draws out the bitterness from overmature eggplant, or one that has been stored too long. Sprinkle cubed or sliced eggplant and leave in a colander for 30 minutes to reduce bitterness, one hour to minimize oil absorption. Pat dry. Most eggplant, if used within a few days of harvest, are naturally sweet, but the bitterness in the small eggplant is prized in Thai cooking.

Preparation:

The skin of large eggplant can be tough, so you may want to peel them before cooking. Trim about 1/2 inch from the bottom end, stand and carve the skin off with a knife. Eggplant can be broiled, roasted, grilled, sautéed and stirfried. Eggplant’s mild flavor and meaty texture pair well with dark sesame oil, olive oil, peanut oil, garlic, ginger, soy, cilantro, basil and tomatoes. Use in dips, pasta, soup, stew, casseroles, gratins and purées.

Health benefits:

A potent free radical called chlorogenic is found in all eggplant, and is credited with anticancer, antimicrobial, antiviral and cholesterol-lowering properties. Eggplant is high in histamines, an immune response compound, and people who are sensitive to plant and animal allergens may experience an allergic reaction of itchy skin after handling or eating the fruit.

Eggplant on the vine. Daniel Lane photo

Moloa’a Organica’a produce can be found at:

Farmers Market: Waipa, Tuesdays at 2 p.m; Kapa’a, Wednesdays at 3 p.m.; Kilauea, Thursdays at 4:30 p.m; Hanalei, Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Grocery: Harvest Market, Healthy Hut, Kilauea Town Market, Hoku Foods, Papaya’s Natural Foods, Living Foods Poi’pu, Kukui’ula Market.

Restaurants: BarAcuda, Kaua’i Grill, Postcards Cafe, The Tavern, Lilikoi Lunch Wagon, Moloa’a Fruit Stand, Coconut Cup, Oasis on the Beach, Red Salt, 22 North, Merriman’s, Roy’s, Josselin’s and local produce distributor Cultivate Kaua’i. Call 6511446

EGGPLANT POKE

This recipe is adapted from The Hawai’i Farmers Market Cookbook, Volume 2. It suggests using an eggplant no more than 1 1/2 inches in diameter to avoid seeds. Use a microplane grater to quickly grate ginger; it works well with lemongrass, too.

* 1 pound eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
* 2 tablespoons soy sauce
* 1 tablespoon brown sugar
* 1 teaspoon sesame oil
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
* 1 minced Hawaiian chili pepper or 1/2 teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes
* 1 teaspoon Hawaiian sea salt
* 1/2 cup sliced Maui onion
* 2 tablespoons sliced green onion
* oil, for deep-frying, preferably peanut

Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil in a saucepan for deep-frying. When the oil is at 350 degrees, cook eggplant for 30 seconds. Remove from the oil and drain in a colander. When eggplant is well drained, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until cold.

In a separate bowl, mix together the soy sauce, sugar, chili, ginger and salt. Pour sauce over chilled eggplant. Add the Maui onion and green onion and mix gently.

Serves four as a pupu or side dish.

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