Eggplant is a versatile vegetable, and making room for it in the garden is becoming more and more common.

This attractive, deep rich purple vegetable capped with gray-green leaves is available year-round in local markets. The Maine crop can be purchased at farmers’ markets or roadside stands in late July to early October.

The bulbous part, the fruit, can vary in shape from round to finger-shaped. The fruit is the edible part. Eggplant is popular in Asian and Middle Eastern cookery, as well as in many Mediterranean dishes.

Eclectic Eggplant

There are many varieties of eggplant which range from dark purple to pale mauve, and from yellow to white. Varieties of eggplant include Chinese purple, globular, Japanese and Italian Rosa Bianco. The longer purple variety is the most commonly eaten. It is one of the more popular vegetables in the world, and it is a staple of Italian cooking throughout Italy. For hundreds of years, it was grown only in Sicily and southern Italy.

Researchers at the US Agricultural Service in Beltsville, Maryland, have found that eggplants are rich sources of phenolic compounds that function as antioxidants. Plants form such compounds to protect themselves from infection by bacteria and fungi.

Eggplant is available all year, but is best in August and September.

For centuries after its introduction into Europe, eggplant was used more as a decorative garden plant than as a food.

Did you know that at one time, women in the Orient used a black dye made form eggplant to stain their teeth a gun metal gray? The dye probably came from the same dark purple eggplant we see in the marketplace today.

The eggplant is a member of the potato family, and it is known worldwide as aubergine, eggplant, brinjal, melanzana, garden egg, and patlican.

Eggplant Nutrition Information

Like most vegetables, eggplant is naturally low in calories and has no fat. It is a fair source of potassium, iron and protein. A cup has only 38 calories (without added fat). A main benefit of eggplant is its high fiber content.

A Staple of the Mediterranean Kitchen

The eggplant is a staple of the Mediterranean kitchen, but it is also becoming increasingly familiar to American diners. And that gives cooks an extremely versatile food with which to work.

Although usually considered a vegetable, the eggplant is actually a fruit. It is a member of the nightshade family, making it a relative of the potato and tomato.

Nutritious Source of Vitamins

All these vegetables are considered nutritious sources of vitamins and cancer-fighting phytochemicals. One-fifth of an eggplant contains only 25 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein.

While eggplant, which originated in India, is available year round, its peak season is in August and September. And when it’s really fresh, eggplant has a sweet, mild flavor. You can eat the skin of young, fresh eggplant, but older ones should be peeled. Since the flesh discolors rapidly, an eggplant should be cut just before using.

Varieties of Eggplant

The many varieties of eggplant range from deep purple to white, from oblong to round and in lengths from 2 to 12 inches in length. The lighter the color, the milder the eggplant, with white being the mildest.

The narrow Japanese or Asian eggplant is tender and sweet.

The egg-shaped white eggplant has a tough skin and smooth flesh. Americans are most familiar with the large, purple eggplant

Eggplant can be baked, broiled, or fried. In many recipes, eggplant fulfills the role of being a complementary ingredient that balances the surrounding flavors of the other more pronounced ingredients.

Purchasing Eggplant

Smaller, immature eggplants are best. Full-size puffy ones may have hard seeds and can be bitter. Choose a firm, smooth-skinned eggplant that is heavy for its size; avoid those with soft or brown spots. Gently push with your thumb or forefinger. If the flesh gives slightly but then bounces back, it is ripe. If the indentation remains, it is overripe and the insides will be mushy. If there is no give, the eggplant was picked too early. Also make sure an eggplant isn’t dry inside, knock on it with your knuckles. If you hear a hollow sound, don’t buy it.

Eggplant should have smooth, glossy, purple black skin, free of scars and they must be firm. Soft eggplants are usually bitter. Keep cool and use eggplant in two to four days after purchase.

Never eat raw eggplant since it contains the toxin solamine. Solamine is destroyed by cooking.

Storing Eggplant

Eggplants are very perishable and become bitter with age. They should be stored in a cool, dry place and used within a day or two of purchase. To store in the refrigerator, place in a plastic bag. If you plan to cook it the same day you buy it, leave it out at room temperature.

The ideal storage temperature is between 46 degrees and 55 degrees. Storing below 46 degrees will damage them. Store, unwashed, in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. Do not force or squeeze them in. Excess pressure on the delicate skin will cause bruises and decay. Premium quality fresh eggplant will last for about a week in the refrigerator. They can be stored for a short time at room temperature.

Preparing Eggplant

Eggplant can be cooked by baking it in its skin, boiling in water, frying, sauteing, steaming or stewing. The vegetable can be served stuffed, and used as a meat extender. The varieties of ways in which it can be prepared make it a favorite choice of people who limit meat in their diet. It is said that eggplant absorbs fat faster than other vegetables, so limit the amount of fat you add to recipes.

When young, the skin of most eggplants are edible; older eggplants should be peeled. since the flesh discolors rapidly, an eggplant should be cut just before using.

When eggplants are fried they tend to absorb four times more fat than an equal amount of potatoes. Studies have shown that eggplants will absorb 80 grams of fat in approximately 70 seconds which adds 700 calories to the eggplant.

Bake eggplant whole in a 400 degree oven. Pierce the skin, as you would a potato, before putting it in the oven. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes, and then use mashed or pureed to combine with other ingredients or use as an ingredient in spreads or dips.

Bake eggplant halves by slicing the vegetable in half lengthwise. Brush the cut side with oil, season and bake, or scoop some of the pulp and stuff with meat or vegetable stuffing. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes at 425 degrees. Or try broiling or grilling halves that have been sliced lengthwise, lightly oiled and seasoned.

Did you know?

An order of eggplant parmigiana at a typical Italian restaurant will fill you with more saturated fat than a McDonald’s Big Mac.

Egg Plant Facts

  • Eggplants, named after the fact that the vegetable is shaped like a purple egg, were once thought to be poisonous.
  • An eggplant can grow almost to the size of a football.
  • Neon is a variety of eggplant with a hot pink hue.
  • Ghostbuster is a variety of eggplant that bears oval fruit with white skin.
  • Ichiban is a variety of eggplant that bears thin, foot long fruit with deep purple skin.
  • The Slim Jim variety of eggplant grows clusters of lavender fruit the size of peanuts.
  • The Easter Egg variety of eggplant bears ivory-colored fruit about two inches long that looks exactly like a chicken’s eggs.
  • In Asian cuisine, the small Chinese eggplant is usually cooked with tofu.
  • In West Africa the eggplant is known as the “field egg”.
  • When preparing eggplant, it is best to avoid frying.

Measuring Eggplant

  • 1 average-sized eggplant will serve 3 people.
  • 1 medium eggplant equals 1 pound
  • One pound of eggplant equals 3 to 4 cups chopped eggplant.

Historical Tidbit

One of the oldest references to eggplant occurred in China in the 5th century, when it was recorded on a scroll that Chinese ladies of fashion made a black dye from eggplant to stain their teeth which, after polishing, shone like silver.

Folklore: As a result of the overly bitter taste of the early varieties, people felt that eggplant held the undeserved and inauspicious reputation of being able to cause insanity, leprosy and cancer.

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