Well known vegetable used in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, European and Asian dishes – due to it’s wonderful texture and ability to absorb flavours.· Also know as an eggfruit, this is a biennial member of the Solanaceae family, though is grown as an annual for best results.

Growing Eggplant

Eggplants are a warm season crop,· and need temperatures of at least 20°C to produce fruit.· Plants grow to around 60cm high and will require staking of the main stem, and possible supports of branches as the developing fruit can be very heavy.· Don’t allow fruit to sit on the ground, as it will be quickly inhabited by snails, slugs, and earwigs.

In warm climates it is possible for plants to remain productive for several seasons, as long as the winter temperatures remain above 10°C. A pH of between 6 and 7 is optimum. Heavy clay or overwet soils predispose plants to root rot disease, so add organic matter to lighter and enrich the soil. 

Eggplants are readily available from nurseries in seedling punnets, as both individual and 6 plant packs.· This is a good way to establish your plants quickly, but your choice of varieties will often be limited to commercial F1 hybrids unsuitable for seed saving. Several seed companies offer a wide selection of non-hybrid varieties that can be easily raised in seed raising mixture and established before planting out in October/November.

They can be slow going, so be patient.  Seeds take slighter longer (15-20 days) to germinate than related plants such as tomatoes and capsicums. Seedlings are often also slightly slower to establish and are usually planted out when 6-10 weeks old by which time they will have grown to 10 – 15 cm in height.

Plants should be spaced at 1 metre apart as they need plenty of room.  If you don’t have a spot in your raised vegetable garden bed, try planting in another part of the garden.  Plants begin to bear in 12 weeks and continue while the weather remains warm. Regular harvesting promotes continued production. Select young, firm fruit with bright, glossy skin.

When you know you enjoy cooking with eggplant – try growing some different varieties like white or the little round ones,

You may hear of the elusive grafted eggplant – and I have noticed this in the gardens of some older Italian gentlemen in our neighbourhood.· In this case the graft is made onto a root stock of another Solanum genus member that is hardier, such as Solanum chrysotrichum and the plant produces for a few years.· I will try and find one and take some photos and get more info on the grafting method.

Here is a packet I bought an Asian grocer to try out:

Harvesting Eggplant

Pick as needed, as the fruit softens when stored for too long.· Pick the purple egg-shaped fruits when they are about the size of a mango – if they are too large the seeds form and changes the flavour profile.· Look out for the prickles at the top of the fruit, they can be painful!· use secateurs to cut, as the stems are very fibrous and they won’t just pull/twist off.

If you pick before using, best to store the eggplant in a special crisper bag in the fridge.

Cooking with Eggplant

I don’t salt eggplant, as I always cook it freshly picked and I pick when they are small-medium sized· There just isn’t the bitterness that can be found in larger older fruit.· Some say that salting reduces the oil absorption when frying, but I would need to test this theory before endorsing it.·

A great absorber of flavours, used in all sorts of dishes – Eggplant can be fried, steamed, grilled and baked.·· They do absorb lots of oil, so try steaming them first to soften, then grill or stir-fry.· Also, you can add water to the pan when frying (after the first minute) so that the water steams off quickly and helps to cook the eggplant slices, the oil will then continue to cook the eggplant golden brown.  It is scary to watch your bottle of olive oil quickly disappear into the pan while the eggplant slices sit there still white and uncooked.

Eggplant is traditionally used in classic dishes ratatouille and moussaka, and can be used in lasagnes and pasta dishes with success.· The texture makes a vegetaraian dish seem meaty and filling for any salad-dodgers at your table.

Try making your own Baba Ganoush  – the smoky flavours from grilling/roasting the eggplant are just beautiful.

It is worth ordering eggplant next time you are in a Japanese restaurant or sushi bar, as some of the dishes are wonderful – I have enjoyed steamed eggplant topped with a miso sauce and toasted sesame seeds, and a tempura version which worked really well.  Also – some Chinese restaurants do eggplant in a Salt & Pepper batter then deep-fry, which tastes awesome.  Eggplant makes a surprisingly nice salad with an asian style dressing, best served at room temperature and a winning side dish to try.

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