Yes, yes - tomatoes are the well-merited super star of most gardener's summer efforts. How can they not be - they are supremely seasonal, infinitely varied, and a real challenge to grow well consistently (for most regions).
Yet, each year I am reminded that as ornery as tomatoes can seem, peppers and eggplant are typically highly agreeable. Though the spectrum of flavors is relatively limited, the array of colors, sizes, and shapes - and in some cases, heat! - is vast.
I had little regard for eggplant - a combination of unsuccessful growing efforts, and dislike of the flavor and texture - until relatively recently. Switching to containers provided heat that the roots of the plant clearly love, and I was rewarded with annual bumper crops. A bit of research, trial and error on preparation, a dash of becoming a bit more open-minded and adventurous, in a culinary sense, closed the deal. I love eggplant, and consider them fully as seasonal a delicacy as tomatoes, strawberries, asparagus and sugar snap peas.
I've shown a selection of my eggplant from this season. For those of you on Facebook, I've started doing an occasional morning Facebook Live - tomorrow morning at 9 AM or so I will do part 2 of my driveway eggplant walk. Shown above are Twilight LIghtning, Mardi Gras, Green Ghost, Prosperosa, Rio Market (a rather rare type of eggplant called solanum aethopicum, also known as bitter tomato or Ethiopian eggplant, among other names) and Rosa Bianca.
Short list of what we do with eggplant
Poke a few holes, spray with oil and roast on the grill - scoop out the pulp (the skin will char and turn dark yellow brown, and the flesh will become soft) and use in Baba Ganoush or one of our favorite Indian dishes, Bangan Bharta.
I love to peel, cube, and roast the eggplant - just toss the cubes with a bit of olive oil, some salt and pepper and roast until a bit charred. We use eggplant prepared this way in a tremendous pasta dish, Pasta Alla Norma - by roasting the eggplant, the oil in the recipe is reduced by a lot!
Eggplant parmesan is a popular dish, but the eggplant is often breaded and fried. Instead, I peel eggplant, slice into 1/4 inch rounds, dip into beaten egg, then bread crumbs - spray with some olive oil spray and bake on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes at 400 - until they are browned and as crisp as you like. They can be eaten like this as a starter (they are like addictive potato chips), dipped in salsa, or used in eggplant parmesan.....even best, they can be cooled and placed into freezer bags - we've kept them this way for a year - just take some out and recrisp them in the oven to use them.
Finally - the dish that won me over was ratatouille. A blend of sauteed zucchini, eggplant cubes, onions, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and spices, this hearty stew is great over rice with some grated cheddar on top.
I've found a few ways to make it a bit labor intensive. Roasted ratatouille is a really easy way to get the same effect - my favorite recipe seems to have vanished from the internet, but really it is just putting some olive oil in a large pan and adding cubed peeled eggplant, zucchini, sweet onion, sweet pepper and tomatoes, with some basil, thyme, salt and pepper - put a few cloves of garlic on top, and remove it when golden brown and soft - mash it with olive oil, and blend it into the dish when it is done - typically 400 degrees for 45 min to an hour gives the veggies a nice slight char. Or do a deconstructed version - grill halved zucchini, skewers of eggplant cubes, onions and peppers and cherry tomatoes. When they are all nicely grilled and tender, mix them all up and add some fresh herbs.
Have fun, try something new, and enjoy!