Sex was definitely on the minds of 16th century Spaniards who called eggplants “love apples.” Others in Europe at the time weren’t so sure. They thought eggplants caused insanity.
Eggplant (also known as aubergine) is a shiny, bulbous vegetable usually purple in color, but it can be green or white. The eggplant is actually a berry with an edible skin and disc-like seeds similar to peppers and tomatoes. However, eggplant has a firm and dense flesh, which is too bitter to eat raw. Eggplants can be small and round and rather large. The smaller the eggplant, the less bitter it is and the less preparation it needs to draw out its bitterness. Eggplants are very versatile and are used in many different cuisines from Mediterranean to Asian.
Basic Types of Eggplant
American Eggplant is the most common. It’s large and purple.
Japanese Eggplant are slender with thinner skins and a more delicate, sweeter flavor and can be green, pink, white, lavender and purple. One American eggplant equals about 3 Japanese eggplants.
How to Select and Store Eggplant
The key to a non-bitter eggplant is freshness. Choose eggplants that are not too large and have a shiny, deep colored skin. Fondle the eggplant well. Its flesh should spring back to life when you press it. Dull skin and brown-colored spots are not good. Inside, the eggplant should look white with few seeds and no green color. Green indicates a premature eggplant. It’s best to use eggplants right away otherwise they tend to get more bitter with time. One medium sized eggplant usually weighs about 1 pound, which yields about 3 or 4 cups of diced eggplant.
How to Prepare Eggplant
Eggplant is a very bitter vegetable and it must be prepared carefully. The usual preparation method is to slice it, wash it well, and then rub it with salt. The salt pulls out the bitter juices, so when preparing it is often best to put the slices of eggplant on a rack over a sink or on paper towels. After at least 30 to 60 minutes, brush off the salt with a paper towel and cook according to your recipe. When the eggplant has been "purged" in this manner, the flesh becomes much more absorbent and flexible, like a sponge, and is excellent at absorbing other liquids and flavors. Be aware that the eggplant can absorb more oil than any other vegetable. Another cleaning method is to simply soak the pieces in clean cold water or milk for thirty minutes.
How to Cook Eggplant
Once prepared, eggplant can be stuffed, baked, roasted, grilled, fried, sautéed, steamed, smoked, stir-fried or used as a dip. When it’s cooked, eggplant should melt in your mouth.
Eggplant loves to be paired with anchovies, basil, cheeses, garlic, lemon, mushrooms, olive oil, olives, onions, parsley, green peppers, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar.
They compliment other foods nicely as a side dish, and are hearty enough as a main course (Eggplant Parmesan or a No-Fry Eggplant Parmesan), appetizer (Baba Ghannouj, Roasted Eggplant Dip, or Poor Man's Caviar).
Nutritionally: Low in calories because it's almost 95% water, it is only 25 calories a serving. It's a good source of fiber, folic acid, manganese, thiamin, Vitamin B6, magnesium and potassium; it also has Vitamin C, Niacin, Iron, some protein, and pantothenic acid.