Sunday, March 22, 2009

Solanum melongena,eggplant or aubergine

It was great to see current First Lady Michelle Obama on the evening news talking about the new 1100sq.ft vegetable plot planned for the south lawn at the White House.The vegetable and fruit garden will also include a couple of bee hives and will be visible to passers-by on E street in Washington.Mrs Obama said that part of her aim was to educate children about healthful locally grown food at a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern.Fifty five varieties of vegetables will be planted from a wish list of the kitchen staff overseen by White House assistant chef Sam Kass and head gardener Dale Haney (pictured below.)
Solanum melongena
 eggplant or aubergine
I wonder if eggplants will be grown in the White House vegetable plot? They are not really suited to cooler regions and need a clear seven month growing period without frost to produce a good crop.During this time, they need constant water and regular side dressings of fertilizer but are otherwise fairly hardy and are not affected by pests or diseases. Caterpillars sometimes bore small holes in the fruit but really only do surface damage.The plants are decorative and are ideal to grow in containers or amongst flowers in a more ornamental setting.
When it comes to cooking with eggplant ,I always turn to Claudia Roden's A new book of Middle Eastern food. (Penguin books) She describes them ..the appearance of the vegetable,shiny,at times subtle and gentle in colour ,but more often fierce and blue black,has stirred the imagination of people ,who have given it ,in turn,gentle virtues and malicious magical powers..
I particularly like her simple Turkish recipes such as eggplant stuffed with meat and pine nuts (Sheikh el Mahshi Betingan)
Eggplants are also a big part of Asian cooking and the variety I like to buy at Asian vegetable markets is the small pea sized Thai eggplant Solanum torvum known as makhua puang. This grows to be quite a large bush up to 2 metres with round leaves and spiny stems. It is also grown in the Seychelles and West Indies where it is known as gully bean or susumber. They have a bitter taste but when added whole to a Thai green curry help to allay some of the sweetness from palm sugar and coconut cream.

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