The main reason I garden is to grow food – herbs, vegetables, fruit, salads, seeds… yes, it’s all driven by pure greed. So come summer, with the courgette, potato and pea harvests kicking off the main season of eating from the garden, I’m at my happiest.
I’m also a great believer in concentrating on growing those things that do well in the conditions my garden and the climate here offer… or more realistically, I’m a lazy gardener who wants plants that will pretty much take care of themselves while still producing a worthwhile harvest of something edible. Following this principle, the likes of beans, garlic and apples are definitely in, while melons and aubergines have been tried and rejected.
Saying that, aubergines have been given another chance this year. The first year I grew aubergines they were a huge success – huge compared to my expectations anyway. The plants grew well in a planter on the patio flanked by tomatoes and basil (this was back in the days when summers were long and warm), and produced a couple of deep purple aubergines that were picked, cooked, eaten and enjoyed.
Since then there have been a series of years with either zero germination from aubergine seeds, or weak, sickly looking plants that never came to anything. After too many failures, I decided that aubergines weren’t worth the effort and stopped growing them. This year though the school gardening club was given some lovely looking vegetable plants to sell and help raise some funds for buying new gardening equipment. Among them were aubergines, and feeling I had to support the garden I bought a couple of plants. They are now potted up and in the greenhouse. Obviously from my past experiences I’m not an expert, but I’m hoping that if the tomatillos and chillies are doing alright in the greenhouse, the conditions will suit aubergines too – if anyone knows otherwise or has any failsafe tips I’d love to hear them.
Anticipating the aubergine harvest later in the summer, I’ve been experimenting with ideas for using them. Last weekend we had aubergines cooked gently in olive oil with red onion and garlic, served with a thick yoghurt sauce/dip flavoured with Feta cheese and fresh herbs. The aubergines were good, but the real hit with everyone was the sauce (or dip – it works well both ways). My children have by now become very suspicious of new dishes on the tea table, asking of anything unfamiliar “is this for the blog?” They’re my main taste testers, so when the sauce got a “will you make this again?”, I knew I was onto something good.
I have a feeling that this Feta and yoghurt dip will be used with a whole range of dishes. Since the aubergine experiment, we’ve also had some with corn chips and a cold beer (not the children!), and with veggie burgers in proper white, squishy burger buns. And I don’t think you’d have to limit its use to non-meat burgers, can’t say for sure but I’m pretty confident this combination of herbs, lemon and cheese would be just fine topping off a meaty burger too. I’m entering this in July’s Four Seasons Food Challenge hosted by Louisa at Chez Foti and Anneli at Delicieux – the theme is barbecues and barbecue side dishes, so I’m hoping this qualifies as a side dish.
Feta & yoghurt dip
½ cup Feta cheese
½ cup natural yoghurt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
zest of ½ unwaxed lemon
¼ cup fresh parsley, mint and dill leaves, finely chopped
½-1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the Feta into a bowl and mash to a creamy consistency. Add the yoghurt, olive oil and lemon juice, and stir to combine. Mix in the lemon zest, herbs and chilli – add as much or little chilli as you like for heat and flavour. Finally, taste the dip and season with some salt and pepper if needed.