Eggplants and Capsicums
I learned to love eggplants as a child growing up in Thailand. My mother made delicious dishes using eggplants. In Thailand eggplants vary a lot in size. The tiniest one is similar in size and colour to a single little green pea and is used mainly in curries. Then there are small round ones similar in size to ping pong balls. Bigger ones are teardrop shaped or long and narrow. Eggplants can be white, striped, orange, green or purple.
This year I planted Lebanese long purple and Black Beauty which bears large, purple fruits. Eggplants love long hot days and enjoy rich and moist soil.
Eggplants and capsicums are the opposite in character from their cousins, the tomatoes. They live through the season showing off their beautiful green leaves. On a hot day eggplant leaves cover their young fruits to prevent them from scorching in the sun. Eggplants have exquisite, large scalloped triangle shaped leaves, most of them bigger than my hands. They love to be showered each morning and to get their leaves and flowers wet with gentle spray from a hose.
Each year on Australia day weekend, I volunteer at a checkpoint for the Alpine Classic Cycling event in Bright. One of my favourite activities is spraying cyclists’ faces after they slog on up Mount Buffalo, 1,700 metres (5,500 feet) above sea level. Cyclists love this spray of water on their face after the ride. One even proposed a marriage! Spraying eggplants and getting their leaves wet remind me of spraying the faces of cyclists. If eggplants could speak, they would shout thank you in a chorus. It seems they grow a bit taller after each spray. Their joy is palpable as is mine.
In return, my eggplants give me fruits that are almost as big as a football. No, I am not saying that I caught a five kilo fish when it’s only 500 grams; these eggplants really are that big. I cooked one this week and it made a main dish enough for four people. Eggplants are possessive of their fruits and don’t allow for easy picking. Tiny spikes cover the stems and the underside of their leaves. This is deceptive because the fruits are glistening smooth purple and inviting. Some say that eggplants bite when you pick them!
Capsicums also use their leaves to protect their fruit. They enjoy hot weather and prefer a sunny area in the garden. They love to be touched and hide their fruits in such a way that you need to touch them to find them. They don’t mind getting their leaves wet but don’t love it the same way that eggplants do. I prefer to leave mature capsicums on the plant until they turn red as they are sweeter this way. But, bugs like them too and often burrow inside a voluptuous capsicum until it gets on a chopping board.
Now, at the end of summer, I am still harvesting baskets of glistening purple eggplants and red capsicums.
My mother did not use recipes when she cooked. From memory, this is one of the ways she cooked eggplants. I have adapted the recipe to include capsicum because the flavours blend beautifully and the palette of colours make it a feast for the eye as well as to the taste.
Recipe: Thai Eggplant with Capsicum and fresh Basil
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 to 2 chilies, chopped (remove seeds if you don’t like it hot)
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 long purple eggplants or 1 large eggplant, cut to bite size
1 red capsicum, seeded and sliced
1 green capsicum, seeded and sliced
3 tbsp soy sauce
Splash of vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 cup shredded fresh basil
Heat a deep saucepan or wok over high heat. Add oil and chopped chili follow with onions and cook until onion is translucent. Add garlic and eggplant. Stir fry for 4-5 minutes until eggplant is soft. (Add a little water if needed to help eggplant cook faster) Add capsicum and cook for 3-4 minutes more. Add soy sauce, sugar and splash of vinegar. Cook for another minute or two. Turn off the heat and add shredded basil. Mix through and serve over rice.