Until quite recently, I was blissfully unaware of the extent of the amount of fresh produce we, as modern human beings, waste solely due to their appearance. It is rather embarrassing to admit, but I just had no idea that the fruit and vegetables sold to us in most stores these days are only a fraction of what is really produced, picked under strict visual criteria, to meet what us consumers think produce should look like. This, to me, is just one of the most messed up things ever.
The thought that perfectly good, delicious fruit and vegetables that farmers have worked incredibly hard to grow and make available to us -a whopping 25% of all food grown to be exact- simply gets thrown away and never even gets a chance to be on shelves just because it isn’t “perfect” looking according to our perception makes me utterly furious. And ashamed. And sad. SO very sad.
It makes me wonder what we have become as a society…but then when I do think about it, it isn’t very surprising at all in the appearance-centred culture that we live in today. People seem to generally give more importance to the outer appearance of things, rather than their true value or worth. It is the same with body image, beauty, the media, social platforms, fashion, pop culture…pretty much every aspect of our modern world. Why stop at our food?
It is, on a larger scale, I think, a symptom of us becoming so incredibly detached from the reality of where our food comes from, and hardly having any connection with the Earth that we live on. A century ago, the average person knew the basics of self sustainability and how to grow their own food, because that’s what most people did. Everyone had contact with the earth, and everyone knew what a real carrot looks like; wonky, uneven, varying in size and colour and shape…no two carrots were the same, really…and that was ok, because they all tasted equally lovely and kept people fed and nourished.
Fast forward to today, where the majority of humans have un-learned all these basic life skills, like farming, cooking, building and creating things. We built our big cities, gave more importance to newer skills and more modern occupations, and essentially lost touch with our roots to the extent of not having the slightest clue about how food is grown, and to the distorted extent that thinking that all carrots should be perfectly orange, straight, smooth and flawless. If we see a wonky one, we think something must be wrong with it, when in fact, the problem lies completely within us and our ignorance and ridiculously delusional new norms. I am as guilty as anyone else, and I hate it.
Understandably and realistically, we can’t all drop our jobs and city lives, move to a farm and start growing our own food (although quite frankly, it is looking increasingly tempting to me), but I do believe there is always something that we can do. We are, after all, the consumers, and our demands are what drive the industry and what is supplied to us.
Which brings me to the topic of today, which is like a little ray of hope and positivity in this strange and scary reality we live in. A little over a year ago, I noticed a new little section appear in my local Harris Farm supermarket. A large banner spelled the words ‘Imperfect Picks’, and it explained that they were introducing a new small range of produce that, while might be slightly less ‘perfect’ appearance-wise, is equally delicious and fresh, and being offered at a lower price than their regular range, in an effort to reduce food waste and make more of what farmers grow available to consumers. If I told you my heart skipped a beat in excitement and joy, and I let out an audible squeal, would you believe me? Yes, I do get ridiculously emotional about food…you guys should know that by now haha!
Since then, I immediately head to that section first whenever I visit the store, and ALWAYS choose the “flawed” version over the “flawless” one if I have the choice. It’s been over a year now, and the Imperfect Picks range continues to grow in variety, and they’ve managed to sell (and save!) a massive 4 MILLION kilograms of perfectly good fruit and vegetables that would’ve otherwise been discarded and not even made it out the farm gates. How AWESOME is that?? Every time we choose to buy an Imperfect Pick, we are helping to make use of more of the farmer’s crops, helping to reduce food wastage, and helping ourselves save money (up to 50%!!). It’s a win for everyone involved, and as is apparent, even small wins can grow to be REAL change.
I developed this recipe to showcase how a seemingly imperfect vegetable, in this case my beloved eggplant, with just a little bit of love and care, can be PERFECTLY delicious and beautiful the next minute. These skin-deep flaws you see play absolutely NO role in the outcome of the dish, and honestly, to me, make these beauties even more endearing and lovely.
It is a simple dish, but one that is packed with flavours and textures, and makes for quite the impressive side dish or even main event for a vegetarian meal. Eggplants get partially peeled, sliced and slathered in olive oil before being grilled to golden perfection, then layered with a creamy tahini yoghurt, addictively sweet-and-sour pomegranate molasses, and topped with scatterings of pomegranate arils, fresh mint and toasted nuts. It is one of my (many) favourite ways to eat eggplant, and has all the lovely flavours that take me back home. I hope you give it a try, and as always, let me know how it turns out!
I hope this inspires you to look at things with a little less emphasis on appearance, and a little more on true worth and potential…we need more of that these days.
- FOR THE YOGHURT:
- • 400g plain or greek style yoghurt
- • 2 heaped tbsp. tahini paste
- • 1 small clove garlic, minced (or less if you prefer)
- • ½ tsp. ground cumin
- • a generous squeeze of lemon juice
- • salt to taste
- FOR THE EGGPLANTS
- • 4 medium eggplants
- • olive oil, as needed
- • salt, as needed
- TO SERVE:
- • pomegranate molasses
- • seeds from 1 pomegranate fruit
- • toasted pine nuts or crushed walnuts
- • a handful of fresh mint
- Whisk thoroughly all the ingredients for the yoghurt together in a bowl until smooth, seasoning with salt to taste. Cover and set aside in the fridge until ready to serve.
- Preheat your oven’s top grill/broiler to high.
- Peel the eggplants either completely, or as I did in the photos; leaving alternating strips of the skin on for presentation. Remove the tops and slice the eggplants crosswise into 2cm thick slices.
- Lay the eggplant slices in one layer onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper or foil and brush generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt (flaky or coarse sea salt is best!) and place the tray under the grill for 7-10 minutes, until the eggplant is lovely golden brown on top. Take the tray out, flip the slices over and repeat on the other side. Continue until all the eggplant is cooked (this usually takes 2-3 batches, depending on size).
- To assemble: layer 5-6 slices of eggplant onto a plate, placing a teaspoon-full of the yoghurt in between each slice. Top with a generous dollop of the yoghurt, a drizzle of the pomegranate molasses, and a scattering of pomegranate seeds, pine nuts/walnut and mint. Serve warm or at room temperature. You can also lay out all the ingredients on the table and let people assemble their own!