Seed Spotlight: Summer Squash, Eggplant, and Sweet Potato Vines
In the Seed Spotlight Series we highlight different varieties of delicious local food that's currently in season, featuring information on their storage, nutritional benefits, preservation methods, and recipes.
Eggplant is a relative of the tomato and potato. It is a half-hardy annual in temperate climates, but a perennial in its native tropical climate. It’s thought that two separate domestications of this plant happened nearly simultaneously in south and east Asia. When raw, eggplants are bitter, but they deepen into a rich and complex flavor profile when cooked. They often absorb large amount of fats and oils unless degorged prior to cooking (this is most true of older heirloom cultivars). To degorge, slice and salt eggplant. Leave in a colander over a sink or other container for at least 10 minutes, up to an hour. Rinse eggplant and dry.
Eggplants come in a very wide variety of shapes and colors, from white to purple to black and from perfectly round to very long and skinny.They have a large water content and contain moderate amounts of manganese, as well as lots of antioxidants and fiber.
Eggplants should be stored at a cool room temperature. If your kitchen is very warm, it is best to refrigerate wrapped in a damp paper towel in the crisper drawer or a warm place in the fridge. Eggplant freezes well after broiling or grilling, then scooping out the flesh and pureeing. In this way, it can be used as a soup thickener or for baba ganoush. It also freezes well after roasting in slices, or roasting and breading for pizza or eggplant parmesan. Eggplant can also be dehydrated. The Free Range Life has a nice write up on preserving eggplant that you can read here.
Summer squash are thin skinned varieties of squash that ripen quickly and grow on bushy-shaped plants. They include zucchini, straightneck squash, crookneck squash, and patty pan squash, among others. Unlike winter squash, they are harvested when the rinds are still edible and the fruit is tender. They are related to watermelons and cucumbers.
Summer squash are very high in fiber and vitamin C. They contain moderate amounts of vitamin B6 and manganese.
To store summer squash in the fridge, keep the squash whole, dry and unwashed. Store them in a plastic or paper bag with one end open to encourage air circulation, and pop them in the refrigerator crisper drawer. They can be easily frozen after blanching. It works best to freeze after grating (for use in baking), sliced in rounds that are ready for frying, or in already baked or cooked dishes frozen for later. They can also be dehydrated or pickled. It is not recommended to can summer squash. You can learn more about freezing or pickling from Clemson Ag Extension here.
Sweet Potato Vine
This is the edible vine of the tuberous sweet potato plant. Related to morning glories, sweet potatoes are only distant relatives of white potatoes. The sweet potato leaves are dark green and heart shaped, while the vines are tender and a lighter green. The flowers are very similar to morning glories and are white, pink, and/or purple. Sweet potatoes were originally cultivated in Central or South America. Currently many varieties are cultivated around the world and are an important staple crop for many cultures. The tuberous root can vary in skin and flesh tone from purple to white to yellow to orange to red. Although uncommon in typical North American cuisine, sweet potato leaves have been used in Asian, African, Central and South American and Pacific Island recipes for years.
Sweet potato vines and leaves are a good source of Protein, Niacin, Calcium and Iron, and a very good source of fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Manganese.
As with all fresh produce, make sure to thoroughly rinse leaves under running water and pat dry with a towel to remove dirt and possible contaminants. Leaves are best consumed soon after purchase, as they are prone to wilt. Store them in the bottom drawer in your fridge in a sealed bag. Sweet potato leaves may be frozen after cleaning and lightly sauteing.