Backyard to Table

Today I am sharing with you, one of my favorite ways to prepare and eat eggplant one of the most popular veggies to grow during the summer here on the east coast. It is also one of the most well liked dishes in our home – because, really, who can resist a dish that includes roti?

I love the idea of Backyard to Table or Garden to Table. Growing my own food encourages me to get creative in the kitchen. It is the epitome of seasonal cooking and eating which is just how we approach food in Guyana where I grew up.

If you have not yet, I encourage you to make it a goal to eat something as ubiquitous as a tomato that you or someone you know has tended. It will be hard to imagine how very different, unique and flavor-rich tomatoes can be if you are just used to the standard supermarket variety. Growing your own food also frees you up to embrace fruits and vegetables that are not aesthetically perfect, and for me, motivates me to to be even more diligent about avoiding waste.

The other thing I encourage all visitors to this community to do is to try to cultivate something… even if you just have a windowsill, herbs are resilient and easy to grow.

My 14 year old son Madiba takes care of the garden too!
My 14 year old son Madiba takes care of the garden too!

Starring: Eggplant

Here is a gorgeous, versatile, delicious vegetable (or fruit – depending on how strictly you want to define it). From the plant to the flower and finally to the fruit, eggplant offers up deep purples and pretty lilacs. This year I am only growing ichiban eggplants.

Growing up in Guyana I remember Indian Guyanese referring to eggplant dishes as “baigan” I recently learned that baigan is the Punjabi word for eggplant, so Guyanese are pretty accurate in that regard.

My first harvest was only two eggplants – each from a separate plant. However, I was able to make a full meal for 3 of eggplant with boneless, skinless chicken thighs cooked in coconut milk and served with hot Guyanese roti. I have about 10 more eggplant plants coming in and I can’t wait for a bountiful harvest.

Recipe: Eggplant with Chicken in Coconut Milk

Servings: 3 (This recipe is scalable.) Serve with hot roti or steaming jasmine rice.

INGREDIENTS
  • 10 ounces eggplant (2 medium sized eggplants)
  • 10 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs well seasoned (or whatever part of the chicken you prefer)
  • 3 tbsp herb blend (your choice)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar (optional)
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil (or your choice)
  • 1 large tomato or 2 medium tomatoes (I used red and yellow tomatoes from the garden)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (optional – I had on hand from the garden)
  • 1/4 cup water and 1/2 cup water (reserved)
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk

METHOD
  1. Season the chicken well with 1 tbsp herb blend, salt/seasoning salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Set aside for at least 1 hour.
  2. In the meantime, wash the eggplant and remove the top, stem and “hat”.
  3. Do not peel the eggplant. Cut the eggplant into cubes and set aside.
  4. Wash and dice the tomatoes and set aside.
  5. In a non stick pan, heat the coconut oil on medium high heat.
  6. When the oil just begins to smoke, sprinkle the brown sugar evenly in the pan.
  7. As the sugar begins to melt and bubble, add the chicken and cook (stirring occasionally) until the chicken gets a nice caramel color but does not burn. Make sure the chicken is evenly browned on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  8. In a dutch oven or similar pot, heat another tablespoon of oil. When hot, add 1 tbsp of herb blend and saute until translucent.
  9. Add chicken back to the pan and fry for 1-2 minutes.
  10. Add tomatoes to the chicken in the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes dissolve.
  11. Add 1/2 cup water and cook until all the liquid is absorbed.
  12. Add the eggplant to the pot along with the remaining herb blend. Stir to mix well. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Turn the flame down to medium low, cover and leave to cook for 7-10 minutes.
  13. Check your pot. As the eggplant just begins to turn translucent, add the coconut milk. Stir and cover again.
  14. Check occasionally, gently turning to mix all of the ingredients well. Add the jalapeño pepper if you are using it. Your pot should be gently bubbling as shown in the video below. Add more water if there is not enough liquid. Cover and cook, allowing all of the flavors to meld.
  15. Taste for sufficient salt and pepper. Turn off the flame and let stand covered for 15 minutes. Serve hot with roti or jasmine rice.
When all ingredients are added the eggplant should come to a gentle bubble while the flavors meld together

Chef’s Notes:

  • Works well as a vegetarian meal – just eliminate the chicken and proceed with the recipe. You might want to add 1/2 a medium sized onion chopped and 4-6 fegs of garlic if preparing the vegetarian version.
  • Other meats that work well with this dish are stewing cubes of beef, pork and veal. These must be cooked to almost final tenderness in a pressure cooker before proceeding with Step 8 because eggplant cooks fairly quickly.
  • For the seafood version, add shrimp or fish in the last 5 minutes of cooking. If using fish, try butterfish fillet lightly floured and fried before being added to the eggplant at the end.

Backyard Fresh: Lettuce and Salad Greens

All of my plants were grown from seedlings. A few trips to the Terminal Market in Brooklyn near my home yielded a pleasant variety of lettuce. Most of them I am letting go to seed so that I can plant later in the season and next year as well. A few seedlings gave weeks and weeks of salads, making it easier for me to eat fresh uncooked greens.

For the greens, I grew a wild mesclun mix and arugula. The arugula is very spicy and nice.


Cooking Greens: Spinach, Swiss Chard, Bok Choy

  • Bok Choy has a unique taste and is best prepared simply with one of my herb blends and a touch of soy sauce. Very delicious with dahl and jasmine rice. I only have 3-4 bok choy plants so instead of uprooting the entire thing I just cut off the mature outer leaves and cook those, leaving the plant to sprout new leaves.
  • Callaloo: I am growing what Guyanese call “thick leaf callaloo”. Here in America it is called spinach. Along with pumpkin (I will be dedicating a blog post to pumpkin), eggplant and bora, callaloo is one of my favorite vegetables. It is very rich in vitamins and versatile sauteed on its own, or in omelettes and other grains.
  • Swiss Chard: I am growing white swiss chard. I harvest the leaves when they are still tender as I do with the bok choy. This way I can use the stems. Also, since my garden is 100% container, I am not sure that the swiss chard would grow to the maturity of the varieties I see at the supermarket. I harvest continually and new leaves grow up in the center so one plant produces a continual yield.

Tomatoes

Summer’s candy! Such a rewarding plant to grow, tend and harvest. This year I have two surprises and lots of cherry tomatoes. Unfortunately I lost the tag for that gorgeous green and red heirloom tomato. It is soft and sweet. The yellow tomato is fully ripe and called a “Yellow Boy.” This name does not sit well with me – so I am renaming it “Golden Sunshine”. This plant is giving an enormous yield.


Herbs

I’ve said over and over that herbs are fairly easy to grow and useful for the home chef. If you have limited space and sunshine, try growing herbs. Fresh herbs lift a dish. This year I’ve had no luck with parsley – the caterpillars devoured it – but no sweat, it is a small price to pay for all the bounty that I’ve be blessed with this year.

To make the best of your fresh herbs check out my post on Making Herb Blends. These blends save time, preserve your herbs (which have a short shelf life) and deliver richly flavorful results every time.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Theresa George says:

    Going to make this this week. All my favorite things in a combo I would not have imagined. But wondering where I can get bora! I have five successive plantings of beans and okra in my garden, but it may be a little late here to start another, and I don’t have seeds. Though I am planting peas, collards, kale and some other things for the fall…

    Like

    1. Theresa, Thank you for visiting my blog. I appreciate your comment and feedback. I am saving bora seeds for next year. Text me your mailing address at 347-416-1416 and I will send you some. This bean thrives in hot weather so you may have to wait until next year to plant it. Best of luck! Let me know how the eggplant comes out!

      Like

  2. Lovely garden! The herbs are a wonderful addition to even the smallest yard.

    Like

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