Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Eggplants

I have this large eggplant in my refrigerator and am not sure if I want to eat it. See, I have always hated eggplant - despised it, actually. It was one of those vegetable my father grew in the garden for god-only-knows what reason, considering no one in the house liked them much, and on occasion he would cut one up and deep-fry it like his mother used to and which only he would eat, trying to convince us (and maybe himself) how good it tasted. Images of greasy sticks o' nastiness are seared in my memory. Not surprisingly, eggplants were high on the list of garden giveaways and I believe Dad silently rejoiced when my sister began dating (and eventually married) a vegetarian; whether my brother-in-law rejoiced over twenty pounds of eggplant every summer is another matter. And it wasn't just that I couldn't stand to eat aubergines - I couldn't even watch people eat them. I was out to dinner with a vegetarian friend and he ordered some dish that came out stacked between two grotesquely large slabs of grilled eggplant, which he loves and subsequently attacked with his fork; I silently gagged. To be clear: eggplants = epitome of gross.

And then I lived in southwest Uganda for a year where the diet is overly starch heavy (like all of Uganda) and the only vegetable regularly offered is cabbage: shredded cabbage with your fries; "vegetable sauce" (stewed cabbage) served over potatoes; "vegetable curry" (stewed cabbage with curry powder); cabbage in your eggs; cabbage in your dreams. Southwest Uganda is amazingly fertile and there is a wide variety of fruits and vegetables available, but cabbage is easily and cheaply grown and so it has become the staple vegetable of the local diet. If you grow up eating cabbage every day this is no problem, but after four months my body rebelled and screamed, "I don't want anymore damn cabbage!"

One night Solveigh, a German volunteer with the organization I worked for, cooked some eggplant and out of desperation I tried some - and it wasn't so bad. I ate a plateful and then after that I regularly ate eggplants whenever someone cooked some up. Hell, I even cooked a couple of dishes myself. I thought my taste-buds had finally turned. Then last week I decided to buy an eggplant because there are about five varieties in the stores here and I have plenty of eggplant recipes in my cookbooks, but I haven't been able to bring myself to fully use it. See that section cut out below? I made a ragout with zucchini and eggplant yet whenever I saw the telltale purple skin on my plate I couldn't make my hand go through the motion of bringing it to my mouth to eat. Just looking at the spongy innards down there gives me shivers. While eggplant was amazing and a godsend when I was flavor and nutrient deficient, to eat it by free choice just seems like torture.

This is a verbose way to explain that I was going to have a new recipe for you today but instead just ate leftover turkey. It happens.

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