Farmers markets: Stir-fried eggplant and peppers

In 1986, I loved going to work on Wednesdays. At 6:00 am, Dennis, City Restaurant’s night chef, would meet me at the fish counter at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Open since 1981, the market had a reputation among Los Angeles chefs as the place to go for the best local seafood and seasonal produce. Dennis decided what seafood to serve that night, we ate a steamed pork bun, picked out fruit for the “Tart of the Day,” then we would swing by Guss Meats for a box of French poussin and be unloading at the restaurant’s alley door by 7:30.

A few hears ago, the Sweetie and I went back to the Santa Monica market and it was unrecognizable—crowds of strollers (both mechanical and human), no pork buns, lots of food trucks, and artisan everything—still enjoyable but lacking the urgent quest for products both affordable and sellable. Maybe the urgency happens at dawn, not in the afternoon.

When I was eating pork buns at the Santa Monica Market in 1986, the Eugene Saturday Market, my next favorite, had already been in business for fifteen years. A product of the rambunctious 1970s, the Saturday Market has something for everyone. You can buy tie-died underwear, precious gemstone jewelry, artwork, basketry, healing-arts products, toys, Christmas ornaments, and, oh yes, blocks of locally grown vegetables. 

 

Now, for my latest excursion into farmers markets, Sacramento’s Sunday Asian Market: no-frills, no artisan, no fish, no music, no snacks—an opportunity to buy, not only green beans, zucchini and tomatoes, but heaps of strange looking produce in colorful mounds. This is combat shopping for sure. Not a place for toddlers, pets, or looky-loos. No lollygagging please, just march ahead, eyes forward, feet moving, cash at the ready. Watch out for sharp, metal carts pushed by older women who are reaching for the same eggplant you have your eye on.

 
  

Stir fried eggplant and peppers, Martha Rose Shulman for the New York Times

  • 1 pound Asian eggplant
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil, rice bran oil or canola oil
  • ½ pound firm tofu, cut in 1/2-inch squares and drained on paper towels
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 bell peppers of varying colors
  • 1 Anaheim pepper
  • Salt to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and score down to but not through the skin. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil, lightly oil the foil and place the eggplant on it, cut side down. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the skin begins to shrivel. Remove from the oven, allow to cool until you can handle it, and cut in half along the score down the middle of each half, then into 1/2-inch slices
  2. Combine the rice wine or sherry, the hoisin sauce and soy sauce in a small bowl and set aside
  3. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch steel skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two when added to the pan. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the oil and add the tofu. Let it sit in the pan for about 30 seconds, until it begins to sear, then stir-fry for about 2 minutes, until lightly colored. Transfer to a plate
  4. Swirl in the remaining oil, then add the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes and stir-fry for no more than 10 seconds. Add the peppers and eggplant, sprinkle with salt to taste and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Return the tofu to the wok, add the hoisin sauce mixture and stir-fry for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the eggplant is tender and infused with the sauce and the peppers are crisp-tender. Remove from the heat and serve with rice, grains or noodles
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