Winter’s plunging temperatures do not make me yearn to frolic in the vast outdoors. In fact, last week I huddled impatiently in wait for the red line to climb. While brilliant sun danced atop the icy-flaked blanket of snow, I ventured to walk the mere five blocks to the post office to pick up a week’s worth of mail. I dragged home a bag of letters, bills, newspapers and six books that I had ordered in a moment of pre-Christmas insanity. I couldn’t help it. Santa made me do it.
With winter’s enforced inactivity, coupled with a slowly healing wounded wing, I spend a lot of time with my nose buried in books. I read everything in print, oatmeal boxes, tomato sauce cans, real estate ads. Lately I have been reading cookbooks as though they are novels. A recipe is a puzzler — part truth and part fiction. I seldom follow one. As I scan the ingredients I instinctively alter the process: a bit more of this, less of that, throw in some other. Every culinary creation becomes an adventure. I’ve learned a lot about foods just by reading between the recipes.
And a good thing too. I have a tendency to form patterns in my behavior. I settle into predictable consistency, fall into a rut, if you will. But now that I get a mystery basket of fruits and veggies every couple weeks, chosen by someone unknown in place unknown, my daily diet has jumped the trench, has become more exciting. I never know what I will find. Last week my basket from the food cooperative included the majestic aubergine, aka the humble eggplant.
Before now, my eggplant experience was limited to a couple dreadful dishes served in less-than-the-best restaurants and one lame attempt at home. When I went to the store, I never bought eggplants; I didn’t even notice them. As a color, aubergine is beautiful. As a vegetable, it can be watery and bitter. But I looked at my two purple globes and determined that I would fall in love with eggplant. In fact, I added a couple abandoned orphans from the free table to my pile, covered my basket with a blanket, and lugged my little red wagon-load of garden goodness home over the frozen streets.
I consulted my kitchen bible, “The Joy of Cooking,” for chapter and verse. Fortified with new-found knowledge of this ancient vegetable, my first attempt to gussy up its rather mundane flesh was, aw shucks, delicious. With one eggplant, I made a sauce to serve over quinoa, enough for two meals for myself. It tasted so good that I ate the whole thing at one sitting.
Still, two things bother me about the eggplant. It is a member of the nightshade family. In former times, nightshades were considered poisonous and in some hands, I believe they still are. Nightshades include the potato, and we know the potato is lethal, ask my hips, and the tomato, which in the New World colonies was scurrilously shunned as a “love apple”. Only the French ate tomatoes and they were known to eat anything, including snails.
But, more importantly, and more dangerously, the eggplant is a relative of tobacco. It contains nicotine. With that in mind, no matter that one would have to consume some twenty pounds of eggplant to ingest the amount of nicotine in one cigarette, I posit that it be labeled a controlled substance. The eggplant is obviously a gateway drug-food which will ultimately lead its unwary user to doom and degradation. Today the eggplant; tomorrow hard drugs.
If our government does not step up to the plate, so to speak, and put controls in place, it is just a matter of time until hooked innocents will be living under the bridge in cardboard boxes, mainlining eggplant. Our law-makers must deal with this potential hazard. If we move fast, we can nip this craze in the bud. We must slam those evil insidious eggplant pushers behind bars. We must halt the transportation of these seemingly harmless purple pretenders across state lines. We must plug our permeable borders to stop foreign vegetable cartels. We must apprehend those duped addicts trying to cross the border with eggplants concealed in their underwear. We must deal with this vile danger before it is too late. The time for prohibition is now. You have been warned.
In the meantime, while it is still legal, join me in my kitchen, the Wounded Wing Experiment Station, while I prepare my eggplant dinner for tonight. I think I’ll bake it, scoop out the insides and mash the pulp with sautéed onion, garlic and roasted ancho chilies. I’ll serve it warm over tabouli with a yoghurt-cucumber-mint sauce and sliced tomatoes. Then I’m off to an AA meeting — Aubergines Anonymous.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little diffeent. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)