Eggplant – The perfect pot plant?

The plant:

My mother loves to tell a story about when I was living in the UK and I arrived back home for a visit.  Allegedly I opened the fridge and cried: “what no aubergine!”.  To her this one phrase signified not only that I had become a horrible food snob but an anglicised one at that.  To me it points to a clear neglect of a fabulous vegetable, although she has since mended her ways……In retrospect though I should probably have yelled “what no brinjal!”, as eggplant is a native of India.  But then maybe mum was right as its hard to get the same snobby intonation in the word brinjal as it is in aubergine.  If you don’t believe me try saying the words aloud.  What ever you call it, and you may also be familiar with the Italian Melanzana, or the Arabic al-badinjan to mention but 2 others , its great to grow and great to cook with.  Incidently the name eggplant apparently derives from some, then prized, 18th century cultivars which resembled goose eggs and it is this name which is used in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US.

How I grow it:

I have only ever grown eggplant in pots – although this year I do plan to try them in my main garden bed.  I like them in pots though, they fruit, they don’t take up too much space and you can move them to follow the sun to try and get the most out of the season.   Eggplants are perennial so they may survive a Melbourne winter.  I have yet to achieve this though although I have heard about gardeners locally who have.   Eggplants generally need staking to support the weight of the fruit.   I fertilise pot grown Eggplants every month with liquid fertiliser as the watering process tends to wash away some of the potting mixes nutrients, but in the ground I think I would rely on nutrients in the soil (provided the soil is of a decent quality) as too much fertiliser may encourage the production of leaves over fruits.

This year I grew eggplants from both seed and store bought seedlings.  Both have been successful.  The 3 types I have grown this year are: Early long purple, Lebanese bunching and something called ‘Patio Eggplant”  and frankly all have had something to recommend them: The Lebanese type has been the most prolific, the long purple has produced nearly as many as the Lebanese type but has far softer skin once cooked and the ‘Patio Eggplant’ has produced the largest and ‘meatiest’ fruit.    Perfect for Eggplant or Brinjal Curry.

What I use it for:

Eggplant Masala

In this recipe the eggplant doesn’t really look like eggplant which is a considerable advantage if your 4 year has an avowed dislike of eggplants (referring to it as Brinjal curry also helps in this respect).

  • 4 tablespoons canola (or similar light cooking) oil
  • 2 onions – chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves – chopped
  • A knob of ginger (about 2cm in length) – chopped
  • ¼  tspn chilli powder or 2 red chillies finely chopped.  (This will make it mild as I cook for young children, double (or more) the quantity if you like things hot.)
  • ½ teaspoon of turmeric
  • 2 large tomatoes finely chopped
  • A small bunch of coriander – chopped
  • About 600 – 700 gram of eggplant (you do not need to be exact over or under will be fine)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala*
  • Juice of half a small lemon
  • Salt

Prick the eggplants and place on a baking sheet in an oven set to 210 degrees.  Cook until the skin collapses when touched.  (For a smokier version you can cook the eggplants over a gas flame or BBQ but using the oven works fine and is far less time consuming than cooking them over a gas flame. )  Puree the onion with the garlic and ginger.  I find I don’t have to add water when pureeing Australian onions, however if you have a drier variety you may need to add to splash of water into the food processor get a puree.

Heat the oil and fry the onion mixture with the turmeric over a medium heat.  Fry until the colour of the mixture deepens and becomes a rich golden colour.  Add tomatoes and coriander and chilli.  Cook until the tomatoes collapse and merge with the onion mixture to become a sauce.  Add the eggplant.  Season with salt.  Cook for another 10 minutes.  Add garam masala and lemon juice.  Garnish with additional coriander.  Serve

*To make Garam Masala:

I like my garam masala with a bit of cumin and coriander in it – I find it easier to use than the stronger versions which tend to omit these ingredients (and are a lot heavier on the black pepper).  You can choose to omit the cumin and coriander from this recipe if you prefer.

  • 1 tblspn cumin seeds.
  • 1 tblspn coriander seeds
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 tspn cloves
  • ¼ of a whole nutmeg grated
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon seed from green cardamom pods
  • 1 tspn black peppercorns

Heat a frypan on the top of the stove and add all the spices except the nutmeg and cloves.  Dry fry the spices until fragrant.  Allow them to cool.  Grind all spices together in a spice grinder.

This mixture will keep its flavour for about 3 months (although the fresher the better).

This entry was posted in Autumn Harvesting, Chillies, Capsicum & Eggplant, Recipes, Spring Planting and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Eggplant – The perfect pot plant?

  1. L says:

    I hadn’t considered growing eggplant in a pot. I think I’ll give it a go this year- my seedlings have germinated and are ready to go. Your curry recipe looks amazing!


    • Liz says:

      Great that your seedlings have germinated – I have tomatoes which have but haven’t sown eggplants yet (still a bit cold here). I left last years plants in their pots to see if they would survive and I’m still not quite sure – they have died back but they look like they’re still alive – whether or not they will also be productive if they do survive is another matter again….

  2. Danielle says:

    Hi Liz! I’m hoping to grow eggplants in containers this year and I’m curious as to what size pots you generally use? Do you think 20Lt self-watering pots would be large enough? I managed to keep a few tomato bushes and chillis alive this winter by moving them under the patio, so I’ll have to see if I can extend my eggplant growing season the same way. 🙂

    • Liz says:

      Hi Danielle, The pots I use are 50 litre pots and that size works well. You may find that 20 litres is a little on the small size. I haven’t tried any that small – I grow chillies in that size quite often though. You could try and if you do I would make sure you fertilise regularly as they will run of nutrients (and water) in a smaller pot size. The other thing is that the eggplants do get quite big – my Lebanese eggplant plants often get particularly large, so perhaps see if you can get a smaller variety – if such a thing exists. Great that you kept your chillies but particularly your tomatoes going through winter – that is fabulous!

      • Danielle says:

        Thanks for the advice Liz! I ended up deciding to grow Rosa Bianca eggplants this year and I’ve read they can be grown in 5 gallon/20Lt pots, so I’ll see how I go. I imagine they’d probably be more productive in larger pots but sadly I’ve got limited space to work with. I’ll definitely be sure to fertilise more often as you’ve recommended. I ordered the eggplant seeds (along with several different types of tomato, cucumber and zucchini seeds) last week so hopefully I’ll be starting them off soon! I’m desperate to get back into the garden after spending most of the winter indoors. 🙂

        • Liz says:

          They are a really pretty variety aren’t they? – I just googled – I haven’t tried them personally, I would love to know how you get on – both growing them in that pot size and also what you think of the variety.

          • Danielle says:

            The Rosa Bianca seeds arrived yesterday! Unfortunately the weather has been quite miserable here the past few days so I may have to wait another week or two to plant the seeds. Have you decided which eggplants varieties you’ll grow this season? If I’m able to procure an extra container I may also try Slim Jim or Little Fingers, which I believe are slightly more compact varieties. I’ll have to remember to give you an update at the end of the season. 🙂

          • Liz says:

            I have sown seeds for Bonica & Lebanese both of which I grew last year and was really pleased with. I have also sown seed for Listada de Gandia and Thai green neither of which I’ve grown before so I’m really excited to see how they do. Both the Bonica and Lebanese I grew in the ground last year and they got pretty big, which is not to say they wouldn’t do well in pots but neither was what I would call a small plant. I look forward to hearing about yours.

  3. Danielle says:

    I’d love to hear how you go with the Listada di Gandia, it’s a beautiful eggplant! I’d been considering growing it this season but ended up opting for the Rosa Bianca as it appears to be the more compact of the two. Perth is in for a warm weekend, so I should be able to get my eggplants started! 🙂

    • Liz says:

      We had lovely weather today, perhaps you warm has spread East – long may it continue.

      • Danielle says:

        I’m glad to hear it. Spring is the perfect time for gardening!

        I realised yesterday that I have a few eggplant-related questions that you may be able to help me with. 🙂 Do you use anything to support your eggplants? Do you think two plants would be enough to supply two people throughout summer? No need for an urgent response. 🙂

        • Liz says:

          I stake my eggplants – one stake per plant. The stakes I use are about 1.5 metres long. Regarding the second question it depends on two things – how much eggplant you eat and also how big your plants get. Given you were growing them in reasonably small is pots my thought would be possibly not, but if you only eat a little eggplant then you might get away with it. From my Bonica plant which grew in the ground last year and consequently got pretty big I got about 12 eggplants I think (possibly more) but they kind of came all at once, so I made pickle with quite a few of them. What would possibly work is to have another 2 pots but plant them about a month after the first ones and then you should get a more spread out harvest.

  4. Ramesh says:

    Hi Liz,

    Wonderful article. I am from Bangalore, India. I too tried growing Brinjal and I had a good success ratio with them. I have white, green and violet variety. Please check out the pictures below and give your feedback.


    • Liz says:

      Hi Ramesh, Your plants look great. You have really red soil in Bangalore don’t you? The chillies and eggplants in particular look really happy and healthy. The white one looks really interesting, does it taste similar to the purple skinned varieties?

      • Ramesh says:

        Hi Liz,

        Thanks for the feedback. Yes, we have lots of red soil here. For the container brinjal plants I use a combination of coco peat (coconut fibre), cow manure, Vermicompost and red soil in equal proportion. I haven’t harvested any of the Brinjals so far. I will give you the taste comparison by next week as I will be harvesting the same next week.

        This is my first experiment with gardening so learning from all the experienced gardeners around the world as well as by trial and error.


        • Liz says:

          I do think trial and error is a really great way to garden – there is so much variation in micro climates between gardens and so much conventional ‘wisdom’ contradicts itself that I think in many ways its possibly the most effective way to build up knowledge of how things work in your garden. Looking forward to the eggplant taste test.

  5. Ramesh says:

    We prepared the brinjal fry yesterday. White one was really yummy and delicious.

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