The eggplant was waiting patiently in the refrigerator since our trip to the Sunday Farmer’s Market.
Senses on high alert this past Sunday. Many people. Crowded. White capped booths, a food carnival of sorts. I stop at one of my favorite vegetable stands owned by very friendly Asian folk. One day I heard the younger man tell the lady buying his purple cauliflower that he was a biology major and he was explaining all about the questions she had—purple cauliflower is easiest to digest—interesting I thought, a man that knows his stuff.
Sunday, my nose was greeted with the smell of the farm, the grass, the hay—I was transported, and then I spied the okra on the corner table in a box. I’ve always wanted to work with okra those little curved cuties, but I did not want to make gumbo; I did not want oozing okra that day or the next. I selected my okra, small pieces, firm pieces, chosen carefully. I saw the purple Japanese eggplant. I had to wait while the lady in front of me finished handling every single one, until finally she chose. I selected a small one. When I went up to pay, I asked the kind gentlemen if I could just sauté it in a bit of oil—first time using Japanese eggplant I said. “Oh, first time” he replies. And continued, “if you sauté it in oil, you will end up with goop.” He holds the eggplant in hand while walking me through his recipe. “What I usually do is first I peel the eggplant, cut up and set it aside. Fry up some ground beef and onion, then add the eggplant and a liquid of choice.” I’m elated. Of course! I think to myself, add liquid otherwise I will end up with goop—the secret to working with this purple sponge. The alternative, which he told me is to first fry the eggplant and then sauté. Too much oil saturation for me. He tells me “no charge for the eggplant, since it’s your first time”. I say thank you so much. I say keep the change.
I stop for a moment to watch the one-man band strumming his guitar and blowing his harmonica. I wait while my boyfriend tries to buy honeydew melon. As I sit watching, listening, an emotional flutter has caught me by the throat. What is it I think to myself about a single performer in a market that chokes me up if I watch or listen intently? It happened with the lady last year and it happens other times too. The lady moved me so, that when I got to the car, I started sobbing, but that was last year. Must be that in such an intimate setting, you can really feel their passion, you can hear and feel their soul pouring out and connecting with your own on some level—if you allow it—and you’re in that moment with them and they stir something in you.
Corner of my eye—movement. Boyfriend leaving honeydew stand. What, no melons, what happened? He had the experience that sometimes does happen at these friendly places: pushy ladies and inattentive sales people. Frustration for him, no sale. Darn, I say, that was good honeydew. He said the young gal serving samples took note. Hopefully, she’ll make the unfocused guy behind the counter aware.
The eggplant: My inspiration for last night’s dinner. I love to cook to Latin music, yesterday it was Armik’s Romantic Dreams—soothing flamenco guitar with other instrumentals. I get my veggies ready: eggplant, onion, garlic, zucchini, tomatoes. Cook the ground sirloin with onion and garlic chunks in a touch of coconut oil so it won’t stick. Add the rest of the veggies, one can of tomato juice, pinch of oregano, basil, parsley flakes, salt and pepper; and for my boyfriend who loves his hot spice, several good shakes of cayenne powder. I stir, I taste, more cayenne—ah perfect just enough bite. Cook linguine noodles split in half. Add to meat and veggie medley, stir, and cover a few moments. The final touch: Fry up the sliced okra in a bit of coconut oil over high heat, dash of salt and pepper, move around until it’s a golden brown and top the dishes of beef and veggies with wonderful okra. Last night was heaven for our palettes; the heat of the cayenne, the moist noodles swimming in the textures, the thick slices of garlic that I knew were there, and the non-gooey okra adding it’s own personality that I am now in love with; face, cheeks heating up with every bite.