I was bemoaning the impossibility of combining Sunday morning farmers’ market visits with resuming the choir season when my husband drew my attention to a roadside stand.
Just a block from our church, which is nestled into a side street in the suburban patchwork of ranch and 2-story houses, was a pop-up stand, its name detailed in somewhat uneven lettering across a flimsy-looking plastic covering. It looked like they were selling something more interesting than lemonade, namely, homegrown fruits and vegetables.
The stand (well, really just an umbrella for a cover and 2 plastic chairs as well as a makeshift scale which, the attendant boy soon told us with disarming honesty, was not working) was perched on the suburban curb in front of a house which we have always admired for its extensive garden, vegetation bursting from its backyard.
I was so enamored of the stand with its fresh produce, and the friendly, honest demeanor of the boy who manned the stand, as well as with its mission (all the proceeds were going to a charity walk raising money for deaf kids, to which category the produce-seller seemed to belong), that I walked away with two huge heirloom tomatoes and a copious amount of oddly-shaped baby eggplant.
I stopped myself from making ratatouille and eggplant caponata, my two fall-backs, in favor of a slightly more exotic option, which also turned out to perfectly fit my new dietary restrictions.
I made Spiced Baby Eggplant in Tomato Sauce (Achari Baingan). This Indian-inspired recipe was quite simple, delicious, and bursting with flavor, even though I dialed down the heat factor in consideration of my husband’s taste buds (I subbed paprika for dried red chili). I served this with buckwheat (probably not very authentic, but gluten-free – I’m sure this would go well with rice, or the couscous and naan that the author recommends) and baked chicken breast (brined and simply flavored with olive oil and spices).
The recipe components are known to have anti-inflammatory health benefits (turmeric, ginger, garlic, fennel), and the recipe itself is gluten-free and dairy-free. But that’s not why I’d recommend it. I’d recommend it because it is fun, delicious, and it’s fun to try to quarter an eggplant without cutting the stem off. Rubbing the spices inside the eggplant may seem like an exercise in futility, but it pays off when all this savory goodness hits your frying pan, and then your taste buds.