We called my grandfather 'Daddy Tom' and. lucky for me, he was an avid gardener. He and my grandmother were our neighbors on a street that faced a levee for the Ouachita River. It was nirvana for any child, and there were many of us on the 3 little streets at the (then) edge of town. I grew up in Daddy Tom's garden, 2 big rows each 100 feet long hidden between my grandmother's florific border and the back property line. He grew most of the vegetables we ate, from potatoes and greens to tomatoes, melons, squash and eggplant. One day I came to the garden to find my red wagon full of eggplants. He told me which houses to go to on the block, what to say, whether to use the front door or the back, and said to ask for a dime for each eggplant. I came home with an empty wagon and dimes jangling in my pocket, my self-esteem considerably bolstered. It was years before I figured out that my grandparents were worried about my shy self and that the eggplant experiment was meant to draw me out by forcing me to talk to people. At that time, it was difficult for me to speak up, even to people I knew like our nice neighbors. With a few phone calls, my grandmother set up the whole thing so I could experience success. The lady didn't have a degree in child psychology, but she knew how to encourage a child.
In my adult life, eggplants are green and white and yes, purple. They're globe-shaped, long and skinny, perfectly round and even egg-shaped. My favorites are green eggplants, probably because they have great eggplant taste with skin tenderer, and therefore more edible, than purples. That's also why green eggplants are hard to find, but when you do, they can be fried or stewed or casseroled or grilled just like the purple eggplant dishes you know so well. Besides the edible skin, that fresh green eggplant barely needs salting to prepare it for frying and cooks quickly to prepare it for fritters and fricassees. We cook almost daily at our house and eat a lot of eggplant. Here's a great casserole that can be baked, frozen and reheated when you're craving the tastes of summer on a chilly winter night.
GMama's Amazing Eggplant
Wash and peel if necessary one large eggplant. Chop into 1/2 inch cubes and simmer in salted water until tender. Dice one onion, 1 stalk of celery, 1 carrot and 1 sweet banana or bell pepper. Sauté 1/2 pound of ground protein - pork sausage, turkey, hamburger, lamb, tofu - whatever you like. As you sauté, add a little pepper and fresh herbs to your taste. Once the meat is cooked, add the diced veggies and sweat them until they are soft. By then, the eggplant should be tender. Mash it and add a light sprinkle of salt and pepper, or garlic salt or Cajun seasoning if you like either of those. Set it aside. Add 2 T of tomato paste to the pan, cook for 5 minutes, then add 1 cup of water and stir well. Bring this mixture to a boil, add eggplant and, if you like, a cup of chopped vegetable such as zucchini. Stir again and lower the heat. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings. Top with a sprinkle of parsley, crumbled bacon and/or grated parmesan. Put the top on the pan and cook 5 minutes longer. Serve with French bread.