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Today, I give you an eggplant salad with melon, olive, and basil. But before we get to the recipe, I have to tell you about a field trip!
This week, I went on a farm tour with Produce Express, a local produce company that provides product to many of the restaurants in town. We explored Sacramento’s neighboring county of Yolo which itself is a large agricultural producing county. Three farms were on tap: Del Rio Botanical, River Dog Farms, and Full Belly Farms. Each of these farms provides a CSA box, or a community supported agriculture box. These boxes are full of farm fresh produce that are delivered weekly or biweekly to a neighborhood location near you! Sometimes it’s a neighbor’s house, a local restaurant, or a even a bike shop.
Our first stop on the tour was Del Rio Botanical. It’s a farm just outside the Sacramento city limits full of unique, edible plants with a proprietor of encyclopedic knowledge. One of my favorite herbs is a Japanese mint called shiso and Suzanne grows several different varieties! Including this gorgeous purple and green round leaf hojisu.
Another fun edible plant at Del Rio Botanical was this spineless cactus! Known as the Luther Burbank Spineless Nopal, it is a true cactus, and truly spineless. Look how smooth the large, mature paddle is! And then the little paddles are the newest growth, best for eating. Nibble on it raw, throw it in guacamole, cook it with eggs, it’s crunchy and full of calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C.
In addition to cool vegetables and herbs, Del Rio Botanical also grows many fruits include persimmons, figs and kiwis. These fuzzy little kiwis won’t be ready for another couple months but I’ll be ready for them. These vining plants are definitely in consideration for planting in my own garden. My ideal situation would be to have a male and female plant growing over an arbor.
Next up on the tour was River Dog Farms, located in the Capay Valley, where we began with a gorging of melon tasting. (That was pretty much the theme of the day!) First we tasted multiple muskmelons, the cucurbits that include honeydew, cantaloupe, and many other varieties of smooth skinned melons. This Tuscan muskmelon was by far the sweetest and most traditionally cantaloupe-like. We also tasted canary, charantais, and crenshaw to name a few.
Then we were oh so lucky as to taste an orchid watermelon. I mean just look at that gorgeous yellow flesh. It was so sweet and juicy and amazing.
After filling up on melons, we went to visit the chickens, out in the fields. River Dog Farms as a mobile coop so they can bring the chickens to different fields and fertilize the soil while simultaneously feeding the birds.
We also got to peek in on a few (thousand) brassicas including kale and cabbage starts.
The last stop of the tour was nearby Full Belly Farms. Full Belly Farms has a beautiful farm kitchen and dining area where they also fed us lunch after we toured some of their farming operation.
The day we visited, they had eighteen pallets of melon going out to wholesalers and distributors. Just to clarify, there are 5 to 7 melons in each 30 pound box, and 42 boxes per pallet. So that’s about 4500 melons and just under 23,000 pounds. You could make a lot of this eggplant salad with melon.
And by the way, we also got to eat some of these melon. Including my favorite variety, piel de sapo, or toadskin melon. The outside looks spotted. And the inside is amazing!
So now that you’ve gotten a taste for all the melon, I give you my eggplant salad with melon.
I know, it seems strange, but trust me on this one. The sweet and savory components fit together like a more traditional prosciutto and melon combination. I was inspired by a salad several years ago at Pizzaiolo in Oakland. Instead of the muskmelon, they served it with orchid watermelon and big hunks of smoky eggplant. And cheese. Oh man it was good.
So if you’re feeling a little adventurous, I hope you’ll give this salad a try! You can use whatever variety of sweet melon you have on hand. Be sure to set aside some time to salt the eggplant. The key to good eggplant is that it’s fully cooked. it should be soft and almost melty when it’s done roasting.
Eggplant Salad with Melon
This roasted eggplant salad with melon is sweet, savory, and a bit smoky. Olive and basil add pops of flavor.
Japanese eggplants (about 500g)
melon (about 1200g)
finely chopped olives
loosely packed basil ribbons
Chop eggplants into 1 1/2 to 2-inch pieces. Since Japanese eggplants are long and skinny, I cut them in half lengthwise and then chop into 1 1/2 to 2-inch pieces.
Place eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Mix well and set in the sink. Let eggplants sit for 30 minutes to draw out water. Then rinse well.
Heat oven to 400°F.
Transfer eggplant to a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender and golden.
While eggplant is roasting, cut melon in half. Scoop out the seeds, then slice each half into wedges. Remove the rind and chop melon into 1-inch cubes. Transfer onto serving dish and chill in the refrigerator.
When eggplant is tender, remove from oven. Let cool slightly, then transfer to the melon dish.
Sprinkle with olives and basil. Serve immediately.
I chose a cantaloupe melon for this recipe. There are so many melon varieties that you can select your favorite. Some of the sweetest ones such as a Tuscan muskmelon are delicious. Melons with a bit of a crunch such as canary melons or even watermelon would be nice as well.
The roasted eggplant pairs with the melon much like the more traditional prosciutto and melon combination. You could easily add thinly sliced cured meats and charcuterie such as prosciutto, coppa, or even a spicy soppressata.