13 July 2012

Eggplant Epiphanies

Eggplant: from Ew to Mmmm. Photo by Allison Jones

By Chris Anderson, COUNTRY Financial

Ewww, what’s that?

It’s eggplant, and you’re going to like it!

But I didn’t. Grandma’s fresh-out-of-the-garden, sliced and sautéed in butter version tasted bitter. The grayish color and all those little seeds certainly did nothing to enhance the experience.

Perhaps Grandma’s cooking method failed to bring out the wonder of the vegetable that resembles an over-sized grape. But who eats a plant whose close cousin is named deadly nightshade – a weed we cut out of our fields every summer?

Let’s face it. Everyone can name at least one fruit or vegetable that causes them to wrinkle their nose in disgust. As a kid and into adulthood, eggplant elicited that response from me.

No more! Thanks to the magic of farmers markets, eggplant has gone from “ewww” to “mmmm” on my veggie list.

All it took was a persistent vendor, who convinced me to buy an eggplant, mix it with some of my favorites like green peppers and tomatoes, and add some flour, nutmeg and fresh bread cubes.

The result? A delectable taste sensation called Eggplant Creole. My family fought for the last bite and begged for more.

Then Jason French sealed the eggplant deal. The chef/owner of Portland’s Ned Ludd turned to the purple vegetable for his award-winning Bruschetta of Market Vegetables and Farmers’ Cheese. The dish earned him the COUNTRY Chef Challenge 2011 Master of the Market sponsored by COUNTRY Financial.

This open-faced sandwich represents pure genius with a blend of flavors drawn from garlic, Romano beans, tomatoes, farmer’s cheese and yes, a Japanese eggplant. And what’s more – it’s a quick meal!

So, here’s your tip of the day! Head to your nearest farmers market and venture beyond your fruit and vegetable comfort zone. Buy produce you’ve never given more than a passing glance. Ask the vendor for recipes or check out the Portland Farmers Market website for tantalizing ideas.

Even better yet, mark July 16 on your calendar. Head to the market at Pioneer Courthouse Square from 11:30am to 1:00pm and watch as Portland chefs Gregory Gourdet of Departure, David Padberg of Park Kitchen and Sarah Schafer of Irving Street Kitchen chop, sauté and simmer their way to become the COUNTRY Chef Challenge 2012 Master of the Market.

You’ll see familiar produce teamed with the exotic and blended in unique ways to invigorate your taste buds. The experience is guaranteed to take you from “ewww” to “mmmm.” Sweet and sour eggplant, anyone?