One Seed Chicago is an urban greening project. People, just like you, vote for a favorite seed and One Seed Chicago mails you the seeds for free. Grow them in your garden or a community garden in your neighborhood.
This very fun project was one of the first on-line community events I ever participated in. It led me to understanding how to get the most out of gardening and cooking on line, and helped me to meet a lot of great Chicago gardeners.
This year is an all-edible choice for the second time (2009 was Blue Lake Beans). All you have to do to get seeds is vote. You'll receive a pack of the winning seeds in time to plant them for the 2011 growing season, whether your choice wins or not. Here's what I planted the last two years: Blue Lake Beans in 2009 and Bee Balm in 2010.
The choices are swiss chard, radish and eggplant, three winners (the selection is always tough). My pick is eggplant. It's a hugely rewarding plant- it grows well in the ground or in containers and it's beautiful: if you only have an ornamental garden, you can fit an eggplant in as an ornamental with benefits. And even though it can be challenging to grow from seed, somehow I tend my One Seed choices really carefully; I guess I just feel an obligation to make it work.
You can start Eggplant from seed as late as late April or early May and still get fruit.
I don't want to hear "I don't like eggplant" or "I don't know how to cook it." Here's about 3000 eggplant recipes from Ashbury's Aubergines (found via Metafilter.com). I just made the following eggplant bharta from eggplants that I roasted and then froze last summer. Fresh, local, organic eggplant in January. Doesn't get better than that.
Update: if eggplant wins, I'm cooking an eggplant meal for Mike Nowak (whether he wants it or not). Maybe I'll make this or this:
recipe adapted from C. Solomon Complete Asian Cookbook
2 large eggplants (or 1 quart bag of frozen roasted eggplant)
2 large ripe tomatoes (or ditto, or 1 pint preserved tomato sauce)
3 T olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 1/2 t. fresh ginger, grated
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. chili powder
2 t. salt
1 t. garam masala
You can make this from fresh uncooked vegetables, but I liked it better with the eggplant roasted, and the tomatoes peeled. To roast eggplants, cut them into 1" slices and dredge both sides with oil; put them in a 350F/175C oven for about 30 minutes, or until they are quite soft. To peel tomatoes, boil a large pot of water (deep enough to submerge the toms). At a full boil, submerge each tomato for about 30 seconds (this is called blanching); the skin should then slip right off. You can also remove the seeds if you want to, but it's not necessary for this recipe.
Saute the onion and ginger in the oil until onions are transparent. Add the spices and mix thoroughly. Add the eggplant and tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionaly, until it's a thick sauce-- personal preference on how runny or thick you want it. You can mash it into a puree with a fork, or use an immersible blender. If you've left the tomato seeds in you'll have to cook it down a little longer because there will be more liquid.
Serve over noodles, or as a side dish with fish or pork.