dreaming of eggplant and chrysanthemum tea

I met up with an amazing friend this afternoon for a business meeting of sorts. She’s helping me refresh my company’s branding and it’s been a pleasure to see her more often. We met at The Tea House near the University of Minnesota East Bank campus. I came having eaten lunch (and she’d had a lunch meeting before our meeting), so was thinking I’d grab tea and dessert.

The tea part was easy. I ordered the chrysanthemum as it was something I’d never tried. It was a beautiful pale yellow and had a mild floral flavor that was soothing rather than bracing. Our server said it was even better mixed with black and offered to refresh my pot with a hit of the darker tea. He was right–it was a lovely balance of refreshing floral and a deeper, darker brew.

I passed on the dessert when the menu’s photo of Eggplant in Garlic Sauce caught my eye. The photo itself didn’t make my mouth water–a pile of garlic-sauced eggplant isn’t all that attractive. But the thought of eggplant appealed. Minnesota has an all-too-brief growing season for produce. Eggplant is fresh and lovely and vibrant at the farmers’ markets from maybe July to September. Come fall, winter, and spring, I go without. Why not give it a whirl at a Chinese restaurant?  (If you’re not a fan of eggplant–and how many people really are?–know that even a veggie-lover like myself couldn’t bring myself to try it until age 30. I fell in love immediately. It may not be too late for you.)

The Tea House’s take on eggplant was full of flavor, though fairly heavy. This veggie’s spongy flesh absorbs oil too well. (Botanically, eggplant is a fruit though it’s considered a vegetable to most.) Eating this plate of spicy, garlicky eggplant started me thinking on summer’s produce and the fun I’ll have once it gets here.

My favorite eggplant fix is to slice it into rounds or “fries,” toss it with a bit of oil and sprinkle of salt, then roast it on a baking sheet at 400°F until it’s tender, maybe 15 minutes? I’ve read recommendations to salt and drain eggplant, then rinse before using as this helps remove any bitterness in the flesh. Because I’ve found only older, larger eggplants to be bitter, I usually skip this step when I have a younger and smaller eggplant. I also usually don’t bother to peel eggplant as it seems like more work than it’s worth. Although using a vegetable peeler to take off strips of peel every 1/2 inch or so around the fruit makes for striking presentation. With this winter’s unseasonably warm temperatures, garden-fresh eggplant may be closer than I think.

eggplant in garlic sauce and chrysanthemum tea at The Tea House

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