In the olden days, some folks didn't eat eggplant because they thought it would make them crazy. Today, they shy away because they're not sure how to cook it and think it tastes bitter. In fact, eggplant is a mild-flavored, albeit quirky fruit that is at the heart of many summer and fall meals.
Just like the tomato, another member of the nightshade family, eggplant had an image problem when it first arrived in Europe. It was called "mela insana," which means mad apple, because people thought that if they ate it they'd go insane. That didn't stop them from adorning their tables with eggplants, which were admired for their deep, regal color and pretty leaves and flowers.
Eventually flavor overcame suspicion. Today, as Deborah Madsen puts it in Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone: "Eggplant is the workhorse of the summer kitchen in Mediterranean cuisines." It adds depth and texture to a range of dishes from Ratatouille to Fusilli with Sausage and Summer Vegetables.
The eggplant wound its way to Europe from India or possibly China. Cooks there didn't have the same misconceptionseggplant has always had a role in Asian cuisines. It also has a place in Middle Eastern cooking, starring in the delicious Baba Ghanoush dip.
Late Summer Delight
Eggplant is available in the market year-round, but the peak season is August and September. It's a tricky plant for the home gardener to grow because it needs five months of warm, frost-free weather.
There are many different varieties of eggplants, ranging in shapes and sizes and colors depending on where you live around the world. Italian eggplants, for example, look like the deep purple, oblong variety common in the United States, only smaller. Japanese or Asian eggplants, on the other hand, are long and skinny and have a thinner skin.
All the Weight, None of the Calories
Eggplant is practically calorie-free. A half a cup of cooked eggplant has about 19 calories. Unfortunately, it's not as nutrient dense as other vegetables, though it is a good source of potassium, fiber and folate.
Choosing and Storing
Pick eggplants that are smooth, firm, glossy looking and feel heavy for their size. Avoid fruit that have blemishes or soft spots.
It's best to use eggplant right away. Fresh eggplant doesn't taste bitterthe bitterness comes with age. If you have to store it for a few days, put eggplant in a paper bag, rather than a plastic one, which makes it spoil faster.
How To Cook
Eggplant is one of the few vegetables you can't enjoy raw. For cooking ideas, check out FoodFit's Table, where famed San Francisco chef, cookbook author and Mediterranean cuisine expert Joyce Goldstein shares her knowledge of eggplant. She has a slew of tips on how to cook the purple fruit, and importantly, answers the common prepping question"To salt or not to salt?".
Curried Eggplant with Raita
Eggplant Soup with Parmesan Cream
Fusilli with Sausage and Summer Vegetables
Grilled Eggplant Roll-Ups stuffed with Goat Cheese
Grilled Eggplant Soup
Elizabeth Terry, Elizabeth's on 37th, Savannah, GA
Grilled Eggplant Sandwich
Rigatoni Alla Norma-Sicilian Eggplant Pasta from Catania
Joyce Goldstein, The Mediterranean Kitchen
Baba Ghanoush-Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Puree