There's hardly a sight lovelier than an eggplant laden with fruit in a summer garden. This is my first year of growing really healthy, productive eggplant. I've half-heartedly tried to grow it in the past but it was never a priority and my neglect was obvious. This year I bought one Nadia and one Prosperosa and both have matured into picture perfect bushes bearing several eggplants each.
When you've grown a vegetable as perfect as the Nadia that danced from the branch in my raised bed, you want to prepare it with love in the perfect dish. You just do. It's almost enough to say, "I grew that", but following up with "I made that" is the jewel in the crown.
I knew that eventually I'd have to cut the Nadia free. It was a race between the birds, the insects and becoming too mature and growing past its peak. I spent two days combing the internet for recipes. I found many variations on baba ganoush and page after page of parmigiana recipes. All sounded okay but most called for several eggplant and I just had the one to work with.
I finally found a lamb stew with eggplant and pomegranate molasses recipe. FYI: I LOVE POMEGRANATE. Love it. To death. Love it. So why look any further, I asked myself, because not only do I love pomegranate, I am also a fan of lamb but I rarely indulge. This then, this is the recipe.
Friday of last week I got up at 6:30 a.m. and went to not one, but two grocery stores in search of the pomegranate molasses. When I found it I did what any sensible person would do that grocery shops at daybreak for obscure items. I bought two bottles. $3.19 two times. As my husband would say, "Bing Bang Bong".
The stew was easy enough to put together. I browned the lamb in the dutch oven (such a bear - it weighs a ton), added the onion, added yellow split peas and pomegranate molasses and garam masala and coriander and, of course, the eggplant. I spent so much time hovering over the stove that I never ate breakfast before leaving to work so you can imagine how hungry I was all afternoon and the memory of my kitchen's heady lamb aroma only exacerbated things.
The satisfaction upon coming home and seeing that my husband indulged before putting the pot in the fridge did nothing less than warm my heart. I had a moment of mid-century womanly satisfaction, the kind that comes from feeding your man and sending him out the door on a full stomach.
Now it was my turn. I sat with my bowl full of stew ready for the ego blast of doing it all. My god, the stew was...it was terrible. Horrible. It needed, I don't know what. I had to force myself to eat the entire, very large bowl, in part because I knew I could not give it to the dogs for fear of a late night trip to the emergency veterinary clinic. It was like eating a bowl full of black, hot mushed limes. Where were the split peas and how had they turn into black beans and why, why, why did this happen? This, I was sure, is how a bowl full of sin tastes. I put a spoonful of sour cream on it as if it would miraculously redeem the stew somehow. But I ate it because hey, I grew the eggplant, I got up early and made it and maybe it was just me.
I called Michael at work. " Hey, I didn't like that stew at all," I said.
"Me neither. I sort of think it made me sick."
"Oh, I don't think it made me sick, it just tasted bad. Really, really bad."
"Did anything happen to you afterwards?" he asked me. I thought he was being tactful about any gastrointestinal side affect I may have experienced. Tactful after seventeen years of marriage.
"Uh, no," I answered.
"Did you do anything after you ate it?" he asked.
"Then I want you to get up right now and go to the bathroom and look at yourself,"
I did as instructed, phone still against my ear when I looked into the mirror.
"OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! WHAT HAPPENED?" Oh, the screaming, the agony. Some days I think I'm going to photograph and Instagram every hour of my life and then something like this happens and the thought of taking a picture of my completely blackened mouth melts away like butter on a hot knife.
I gaped at my reflection, open-mouthed, in true horror. My lips, my gums, my tongue my TEETH were all black or some very dark gradation of grey. This wasn't an "I just ate a blueberry sucker and now my tongue is stained" moment. This was full on corpse mouth. I looked like a super zombie. This is how my mouth will look three days after I take my last living breath.
I brushed my teeth madly between the screams and tried to carry on a conversation with my corpse-mouthed husband. My memory tripped back four decades. My friend and I dare each other to go into the bathroom and chant "Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary". We'd worked ourselves up into trembling anticipation and peeked from behind our fingers fearing we'd see the image of a sick and demonic looking woman pleading to us in agony. There she was, she'd found me at last. Obviously, there was a time-release factor, a delay of several decades that I had not taken into account. I wonder if I can find my poor little friend on Facebook and warn her.
"This is probably the only day that I didn't brush my teeth before leaving to work," Michael told me. He is the only person I know who flosses and brushes after each meal - breakfast, lunch and dinner. Three times a day and Friday was the one day he didn't floss or brush before rushing out the door to work.
He was telling a co-worker about the benefits of vine ripening tomatoes when the man, distracted by the horror of this corpse-mouthed tomato lovin' man was too much to bear and he asked in all earnest, "Uh, did your pen explode in your mouth or something?"
"What?" Blackmouth asked.
"Your mouth. What happened to your mouth?"
I called my mom after he told me this, desperately searching for an answer. Had I missed some fundamental lesson in kitchenry while growing up? Are you never ever supposed to stew eggplant and lamb together? Are nightshade vegetables picked in the first week of June in an even numbered year toxic? Does everyone know this but me? Her only advice was to bury the stew in the furthest little square of our backyard, past the tall grass, past the trees. Bury it and bury it deep so the dogs wouldn't get it.
Two toothbrushes later and my teeth are back to normal. I have reasons to be thankful. No one was hurt, no one really took ill, I didn't make this dish for guests. I didn't go out to a bar after dinner. For all of this I am thankful. I can only guess that my cast iron wasn't seasoned well, I don't know. Perhaps I was the only mortal unaware of the blackmouth phenomenom and that is why I found an abundance of grilled eggplant recipes online.
The next day I was in the kitchen - I know, you'd think it would be off limits to me for awhile, right? I was making something and gasped. "What happened?" Michael asked warily. "Oh, nothing. I thought I made a mistake. I'm just a gasper."
He came up behind me and hugged me. "I know. That's one of the reasons I love you."
I think I'm off eggplant for a little while, at least cooking it. It's irrational, I know, like when I was off Good n' Plenty's convinced that they'd caused me to spend three days in the hospital. It's going to take some time to get past this and I don't know how I will ever lose the nickname of Gasper Blackmouth.