It’s New York Fashion Week. As I was watching the ritual of fashion designers announcing their seasonal inspiration, I was reminded of the natural seasons of the kitchen. For those of you who know me, I constantly preach of the importance of eating and cooking seasonally. Seasonal food is fresher, tastier, and more nutritious than food consumed out of season. Even though we all like to eat strawberries year round, the best time to eat them is when they can be purchased directly from a local grower, shortly after harvest. When they do not have to travel long distance, they are better tasting and full of flavor.
I’m constantly working on ways to incorporate seasonality into the menus at Stomping Ground. Our jellies, scone varieties, Stomp at Home Sunday Suppers, and vegetables in the Veggie Hash and Farmer’s Frittata biscuits update with the changing seasons. If I’ve learned anything over the last three and a half years it is that breakfast is sacred. I can’t mess around too much with menu favorites like the Breakfast Nachos or Not So Classic without rocking some serious boats.
Herein lies the problem; I love vegetables. I love to cook them, I love to eat them. I desperately want to serve more of them.
So I ordered this great, big refrigerated case to put at the front are of the restaurant. By the end of the month, you will be able to visit Stomping Ground and order your favorite breakfast items from our kitchen and you will be able to select from an ever-changing menu of freshly prepared, seasonal salads that highlight all the best parts of the seasons: fruits and veggies.
In preparation for impending enhancement, I have been studying and writing menus where vegetables are the star. End of summer is such an interesting time for vegetables, as the tomatoes and corn of summer produce share the spotlight with the squashes and beets of early fall.
And boy is there a lot of eggplant this year, apropos of one of the questions I get most often:
I get it. You only have to have a few bad, bitter experiences with the violet nightshade to put it at the bottom of your summer haul. But prepared correctly, with a few tricks, it can easily be the star of the show.
Some important notes before cooking eggplant:
Look for an eggplant with tight, unblemished skin. Pick it up and give it a gentle squeeze. Eggplant should feel heavy for its size and be free of soft spots. Pick younger, smaller fruits as the older the eggplant, the more time spent on the vine, leading to increased bitterness and unpleasant flesh texture. And never store cold, as it will greatly increase its bitter qualities.
I firmly believe that salting eggplant before cooking greatly improves the final texture of the cooked product. Eggplants are natural sponges; they will soak up almost anything they come in contact with — including salt, oil, and marinades. Salting draws out water, concentrating flavors and reducing eggplant’s sponge-like properties.
To pre-salt, simply place the eggplant in a colander or salad spinner and sprinkle with the salt. Toss to combine, then let the eggplant sit for 30 minutes. If you’re using a colander, you’ll want to place it in a sink or bowl, as the eggplant will let off a bit of water. Then proceed with your recipe.
If you don’t have time to pre-salt, one of my all time favorite ways to prepare eggplant is to roast the crap out of the outside flesh and enjoy the inside. If you don’t want to prepare this yourself, we are including this recipe in this Sunday’s Stomp at Home bag, which you can order here.
2 eggplants (medium)
1 clove of garlic, finely grated on a microplane or smooshed with a spoon
1/2 cup whole fat yogurt or lebneh (Middle Eastern strained yogurt; you can find it at Whole Foods)
Mint, torn from steam
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
1) If you have a gas burner, simply place the whole eggplant directly in the flames, on your stove top, without any container. Keep it there, and turn as the skin becomes crackly and charred. The fruit itself will be super soft. If you are using electric, place the entire eggplant on a cookie sheet and place in 400-degree oven until the eggplant looks like a deflated balloon. You can also place eggplants on white coals after you have finished your burgers on the grill.
2) Split the cooked eggplant and scoop the flesh out from the skin. Try and get a few bits of charred skin in there. Mash the eggplant with a fork and mix with remaining ingredients. Garnish the top with a bit more mint and lemon zest and a big, beautiful swirl of olive oil. YUM!
If you wander down Del Ray’s, “The Avenue,” you won’t miss the farm-red building with a rustic fence bordering the patio. Stomping Ground opened two years ago and quickly became popular for its made-from-scratch biscuits and its neighborhood vibe. On weekends, excited guests line up before Stomping Ground opens hoping to be the first to get a just-out-of-the-oven biscuit or a fresh salad. Stomping Ground is mostly known for its fast casual breakfast and lunch but on Thursdays and Fridays they provide a full dinner service after 5:00pm. All meals are built from local, seasonal food that is organic whenever possible.
2309 Mt Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301