Not even halfway through November, and we’re already publishing our Thanksgiving bounty. Doesn’t it seem to be coming early this year? Yes, but never fear: With our recipes, resources and helpful tips, your big event will be a snap.

In today’s Food, Manuel Roig-Franzia looks at Thanksgiving traditions in the White House, from decades ago to today. Bonnie Benwick watches District resident Lisa Jorgenson turn a gigantic squash into a vegetable masterpiece. Robert L. Wolke explains the scientific whys and wherefores behind a few favorite Thanksgiving foods and why they work — or don’t. Becky Krystal describes our tasting of three heritage-breed turkeys. And there are recipes, recipes, recipes. (A caution and an apology: in the print edition, the amount of flour was omitted from the White House Turkey Gravy recipe; it should be 1/2 cup.)

Lauren Salkeld, senior editor at, will be with us today for the weekly Free Range chat. So bring your questions — Thanksgiving or otherwise — and we’ll do our best to provide the answers. The fun starts at noon sharp. Meanwhile, here’s a warm-up question, a leftover from last week’s chat:

For Thanksgiving this year we’re heading to western Maryland, about two hours from our place. I’ve been asked to bring a vegan, nut-free, citrus-free, side dish that can be done in a slow-cooker or finished on a single burner in under 15 minutes. In the past I’ve done sweet potatoes, but I’ve been asked to switch it up this year. Any suggestions? There will already be an orzo pasta salad and a kale salad.

How do you feel about eggplant? I ask because I really, really loved a recipe for Spicy Braised Eggplant With Prunes that we ran in March. It meets all of your qualifications: It’s vegan, it’s done in a slow-cooker and it contains no meat, dairy, citrus or nuts. Before you turn up your nose at prunes: If you’re worried about any possible yuck factor connected with them, you don’t have to; the dried fruit sort of melts away and becomes invisible.

So: It’s sweet, it’s spicy, it seems perfect, though I will admit it’s not colorful. (But if the suggested garnishes aren’t to your taste, you could just color it up with some chopped parsley or maybe some artfully sliced scallion stems.) It’s also not hard to make, though there’s some chopping to do, so you could always do a test run before you make the real thing, just to see if you like it. But I bet you do.

And here’s the recipe:

Spicy Braised Eggplant With Prunes

(Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

(4 to 6 side-dish servings)

This is savory and rich-tasting; the prunes fairly melt away here.

Serve plain or with scallion fried rice.

For this recipe, you'll need a 5 1/2-to-7-quart slow-cooker.

MAKE AHEAD: The cooled eggplant can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Adapted from "Slow Cooking," by Antony Worrall Thompson (Mitchell Beasley, 2012).

  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 large (about 2 1/4 pounds total) purple eggplants, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 2-inch piece peeled ginger root, grated (1 tablespoon)
  • 2 bunches scallions (12 to 14 total), white and light-green parts cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 3/4 cups homemade or no-salt-added vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup chopped pitted prunes
  • 1 tablespoon salted Chinese black beans, finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Leaves from 4 to 6 stems cilantro, coarsely chopped, for serving (optional)
  • 1 small serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped, for serving (optional)

Heat half of the vegetable and half of the sesame oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once they begin to shimmer, add half of the eggplant and stir-fry for about 8 minutes or until browned on all sides. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the slow-cooker. Repeat with the remaining oils and eggplant.

Reduce the heat to medium; add the garlic, ginger and scallions to the skillet. Stir-fry for 3 minutes, then add to the slow-cooker along with the broth, soy sauce, prunes and the Chinese black beans, if using. Cover and cook on LOW for 3 to 4 hours. The eggplant will be quite tender.

Whisk together the water and cornstarch in a small bowl, then stir into the eggplant mixture. Increase the heat to HIGH; cover and cook for 30 minutes. The mixture should thicken.

Spoon the eggplant and its sauce into a serving bowl; garnish with the cilantro and serrano pepper, if desired. Serve warm.