Don’t Be An Egghead
Let’s get this out of the way. Not all eggplants are the size of balloons. Not all eggplants are purple. Not all eggplants are bitter, seedy oil-sponges. Not all eggplants are created equal.
The fruit (yes it’s a fruit) can be pencil thin and awkwardly curly or heavyset with ruffled edges. They dangle on the vine in shades of green, violet and sometimes orange. Occasionally the skin is mottled - a pattern of white sneaking from the tip to the stem - and their flesh runs the gamut from light and fluffy to creamy and nutty.
At Wednesday’s Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, Susan Yoon held one of the plant’s namesake fruits in her hand. Occupying just one half of her palm, the milky white orb fell somewhere between the size of a chicken and a duck egg. At Orsa & Winston where Yoon is the Sous Chef, she steams the smaller fruits whole before marinating them with balsamic and shio-koji; then she adds tomato, raisins, and capers for a Japanese take on caponata.
If you’re steaming eggplant at home, look for small fruit or cut the flesh into manageable pieces before gently scoring it. Yoon suggests checking it after ten minutes and when fork tender immediately dress it with your marinade of choice.
Where to find (good) eggplants: Peacock Family Farm sells as many as 12 varieties (WednesdaySanta Monica), Weiser Family Farms (click here for market locations) and Schaner Family Farm (Wednesday Santa Monica)
Count Your Blessings (And Eat Tomatoes)
When you’re feeling down on LA, head to your nearest farmers market, scan the stalls and locate a pint-sized green basket filled with Sun Gold tomatoes. Put these tomatoes in your mouth and allow the blissful pop of sweet acidity to remind you why you live here. The Bay Area can have figs on a plate, we’ll take a vine ripe heirloom tomato (and a pinch of salt).
Just like their aubergine cousins, tomatoes come in a kaleidoscope of shapes, colors, sizes and flavors. Farmer Mark Carpenter of Coastal Farms grows at least 40 varieties. A flat of his cherry tomatoes is like an heirloom checkerboard with green, orange, yellow and at least five shades of red tomatoes peeking through the cardboard edges.
David LeFevre, chef and owner of MB Post and Fishing with Dynamite, reveres Carpenter with a deep sense of wonderment. After visiting the farm last year, he was floored to discover that just a small team of six strategize, plant and harvest the acres of nearly 80,000 tomato plants. “Without (farmers like Carpenter), Los Angeles and Southern California wouldn’t have the food scene that it does,” he says smiling. “We’re the luckiest chefs in the country.”
At his Manhattan Beach restaurants, LeFevre blanches cherry tomatoes before dressing them with salt, pepper and olive oil. To blanch them at home, he suggests cutting a shallow X in the base of each tomato before slipping the fruit in a pot of boiling water until the skins loosen. If you have access to a deep fryer, you can shock the tomatoes in oil and watch the skins curl off - no scoring required. Don’t feel like cooking? Right now LeFevre is running at least seven dishes topped with tomatoes. “When you have such a wonderful ingredient like that, how can you put it on just one dish?!” he exclaimed.
Where to buy tomatoes: Munak Ranch (Wednesday and Saturday Downtown Santa Monica, Sunday Main Street Santa Monica), Coastal Farm (Wednesday Santa Monica), Tutti Frutti (Wednesday Santa Monica, Saturday Burbank, Sunday Hollywood), Schaner Family Farms (Wednesday Santa Monica)