Friday, September 2, 2011

My Nightshade Feast

Oh dear . . . I learn so much about gardening from year to year, and this year has been the steepest learning curve yet. I'm learning about the nightshades now because of my curiosity over Buster's preferences. Nightshades, a genus of plants containing high levels of alkaloids and even nicotine, can cause or exacerbate many health problems.

I tend to choose veggies for my garden which are hardy -- robust. Gardening is so much more gratifying when production is prolific! So I've chosen the tomatoes, the eggplants (aubergines) the peppers, nightshades all, as it turns out. There's a reason why these plants survive and thrive -- they taste bad to wildlife -- they are mildly poisonous! Duh. This being said, tomatoes have fewer alkaloids than the other listed veggies, which would explain Buster's affinity for them, but not the aubergines, never the aubergines, not even a tiny nibble. The pepper stems and leaves were delicious to Buster, but the peppers themselves he tossed to the ground -- they must have had enough of the poison to make Buster turn up his wriggly, cute little nose. But the glorious Chinese longbeans, not nightshades, naturally hardy and fast growing, nevertheless, didn't stand a chance with Buster. He denuded the bean thicket from the ground up.

Here's Buster's last dinner. It's a large heirloom tomato, unripe obviously. It was still on the vine one morning after he had finished with it, so I decided to bring it inside to ripen on my counter, after which I plan to eat the rest of it. My kids shudder that I would eat after vermin like Buster, so I won't try to sneak it into anything they will eat. I'll be the only one to eat Buster's leftovers. Don't worry, I will cut out his little teeth marks first!

So from what's left after Buster's had his way with my garden, this year I've inadvertently produced a lovely plot of poisonous veggies! What do I mean exactly by poisonous? Well, the alkaloids in nightshades can cause disturbances in nerve-muscle function (just what an MS patient like myself needs!) joint function and digestive function (remember my "tomato overdose" last year? I thought I had an ulcer). If you have arthritis, tummy trouble or nerve issues, try eliminating nightshades from your diet and see if you feel any better. I'm not wasting my veggies, but I will try not to eat too many of them at once from now on, and will learn from my present folly in my planning for next year's garden.

Incidentally, I found it interesting that the nightshade genus also includes: Potatoes, tobacco, morning glory and belladonna among many others. Belladonna is actually used to make poison, itself!

So, back to my nightshade feast -- I only realize so much of this food is of nightshade origin in hindsight. First, I made a lovely ratatoille. I love ratatoille, and the summer squashes are innocuous, as is the onion. The rest are nightshades -- aubergines from the garden, tomatoes from the garden. I did soak the chopped aubergines in salty water for a bit to draw out the bitter liquid. I have to think that removed some of the alkaloids. Also, cooking removes up to 50% of the remaining alkaloids. Sauteed at high heat, one veggie at a time, in plenty of olive oil, salt and pepper, then combined at the end, the ratatoille was delicious. I used to eat it with parmesan cheese pre-vegan, so it might also be fabulous with a bit of daiya melted on top.

What did I feature to go along with my lovely ratatoille? More nightshades!

For this batch of "smashed potatoes" I boiled 7 partially peeled russet potatoes until tender and then drained them and mashed them all up with several spoonfuls of vegan versions of sour cream, cream cheese and butter, salt, pepper and  some fresh Italian parsley from the garden. I'm sorry I have no measurements, sometimes dinnertime sneaks up on me and I have to move fast to feed the hungry people all around me. I chose these potatoes since my daughter LOVES them.  They went nicely with their nightshade brethren.

I'll pace myself as I finish off my poisonous leftovers, making sure to fill up with plenty of healing dark green leafy veggies in between each serving!