LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 20. Follow us all summer long as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms through the eyes and palate of our own Chef Jay Pierce
by MOLLY McGINN
Late August brings okra and eggplant, and with your summer tomatoes either juiced and in the can or too soft to slice, rediscover a little smothered eggplant, which features the oblong vegetable at its best: playing a supporting role.
“You don’t have to have any culinary prowess whatsoever to enjoy cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers. You just need italian dressing from Wishbone or Seven Seas, or whatever it is,” says Chef Jay Pierce. “Eggplant, however, took me some time to appreciate.”
At the farmer’s market
Common eggplant varieties are Japanese and Italian eggplant. The fundamental difference between the two varieties is shape and how they’re used.
Japanese eggplant is smaller than the Italian variety with fewer seeds. Prep can be tasty and quick. Slice an eggplant longways, grill it on both sides, chop it up, and season with salt and pepper and a little bit of vinaigrette.
Italian eggplant takes a different tack. It has a toothsome, meaty quality when it’s cooked right. Undercooked, it’s less pleasant and spongy.
Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen tip
Jay takes a few blank note cards and holds them together with a binder clip for recipes, notes, and grocery lists.
Tear-dropped shaped, bulbous
Has more seeds
Sauté or roast in the oven
Long and slim in shape
Sauté or grill lightly for a nice fragrance and flavor
- The skin should be tight, unblemished.
- When you pick it up, the eggplant should feel heavy for its size, dense.
- The bigger the eggplant, the more seeds, and you don’t want seeds (a big vegetable yields bigger seeds and the rule of thumb is that the bigger the seed the lower the quality).
Featured recipe: Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen’s Braised Smothered Okra and Eggplant
“When tomatoes get too soft you can’t slice them, so we save that juice, and use it for cooking,” says Jay. “We like this smothered eggplant recipe for a random vegetable of the day: we do it at the end of the summer when okra and eggplant are in season at the same time. It’s vegan, it’s fantastic.”
1 Tablespoon canola oil
½ cup diced yellow onion
1 lb diced eggplant
2 cups diced okra
¾ cup V8 juice
¾ cup tomato juice
½ Tablespoon Lea & Perrins Worcestershire
2 teaspoons Texas Pete
¾ teaspoon dried thyme
Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the diced onions and sauté for about three minutes. Add the eggplant and cook until eggplant is softened (about 5 minutes or so). Add the okra and sauté. Pour in the V8 and tomato juice mixture and braise over medium-low heat. Add the remaining spices and simmer until all is tender (about 5-10 minutes. )
Optional entree: Add some shrimp, sausage or both and serve over rice.