Eggplant is a versatile food that is often overlooked on many dinner tables. Why? More often than not, it is at the bottom of favorite foods list and many cooks just don’t know what to do with it.
If you are looking for fruit that provides ample nutrients, fiber and antioxidants in every serving, eggplant is the ticket. Yes, eggplant is a fruit, but it is prepared and served in savory dishes as if it were a vegetable.
The eggplant is native to India and was domesticated over 4000 years ago. The fruit was then introduced to China, where they hybridized varieties of different shapes and colours. The migration continued to the Middle East and the fruit became popular all over Europe. The Spaniards thought the eggplant was an aphrodisiac and referred to as “Berengenas” or “The Apple of Love.” This of course added greatly to its popularity.
But they were referred to as “the apple of madness,” by the Italians who believed the bold-looking, bitter-tasting eggplant to be poisonous. Fortunately, they got over that and by the 1600’s several varieties migrated from Naples to Germany.
The English gave the fruit the name of “eggplant” referring to one variety’s shape which was similar to an egg. Most of Europe, however, refers to the eggplant, as an “aubergine”
While there are many varieties of eggplant the most common is the American “black beauty” — the large, dark glossy typical globe shaped. All others are classified into the Asian varieties.
Asian varieties are generally long and slender or round and ball-shaped. The Chinese varieties are generally white to lavender in colour while the Japanese are light purple to a dark purplish black.
The ball-shaped Thai eggplants range in size from a half inch to several inches in diameter, with a flesh that is coloured white. Indian eggplants are similar in shape to the Thai’s but coloured purple.
Compared to the familiar American eggplant, Asian eggplants have thinner skins, a more delicate flavour, and fewer seeds that tend to make eggplants bitter.
There is an interesting thing about the flavour of eggplants; in its raw condition it has a slightly bitter taste. Taste a raw eggplant and you might also notice its smoky flavour. Fresh eggplants have a very weak bitter taste but, this can get more pronounced as they over-mature. This is one of the reasons why you should select fresh when you shop for them.
When it comes to cooking, you will find that it easily absorbs flavours from other ingredients. This is one of the reasons why recipes include ingredients and seasonings with strong flavours.
There’s no need to peel eggplant, either. Once cooked, the bright skin will soften and add extra flavour. It used to be common practice to salt eggplants before cooking to draw out bitterness, but today’s modern varieties don’t have this bitter flavour, so it’s no longer necessary.
However, it can be useful to salt eggplant if you’re frying it. The salt draws out moisture, which means it will absorb less oil during cooking. To salt eggplant, slice or dice as required, then sprinkle lightly with salt. Transfer to a colander over a large bowl and set aside for 30 minutes. Rinse the eggplant to remove the salt and pat dry with paper towel before frying.
The texture of properly prepared eggplant makes it the perfect choice as a replacement for meat in veggie burgers, casseroles, and other side and main dishes. Slices can be used as mini pizza crusts, grilled first and then topped with any number of ingredients including mushrooms, tomatoes, and melted cheese. Whole eggplants are often hollowed out and the shell is used to hold a stuffing prepared with a variety of ingredients including ground meat, rice and other grains, chopped vegetables, cheese and nuts.
With such a diverse culinary evolution, eggplant uses are many.
Indian Eggplant Stuffed with Sesame-Peanut Masala
1/4 cup toasted white (hulled) sesame seeds
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons water
8 Indian eggplants,
3 to 4 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup water
For the filling, use a mini food processor to grind the sesame seeds, peanuts, sugar, salt, turmeric and cayenne to a crumbly texture. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the cilantro and water to create a compact, spreadable mixture. Set aside. Use scissors to trim the eggplant stems so that they are about 1/2 inch long. Make a deep cross incision in each eggplant, stopping 1/2-inch short of the stem. Gently pry open the eggplant, use a teaspoon to stuff each eggplant with about 1/8 of the filling. Make sure there is filling between each of the cuts. Gently squeeze the eggplant to make the filling sticks and fills the crevices.
Pour the oil into a large non-stick skillet over medium heat to film the bottom. When hot, add the eggplants in a single layer. Fry the eggplants for 3 to 4 minutes, turning frequently, to brown them on two sides. Don’t fret when some of the filling spills out. Add the remaining 1/4 cup water, cover with a lid, and turn the heat to low. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, turning halfway through, until tender. Pierce with the tip of a knife to test. There will be filling in the skillet bottom. If you want to crisp those bits and serve them with the eggplant, increase the heat to medium high and fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until crisp. Remove from the heat, let the sizzling subside, then transfer to a plate and serve.
1 large eggplant
1/4 cup tahini
3 garlic cloves , minced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 pinch ground cumin
salt, to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to Broil. Wrap a foil wrapped pan. Poke holes into eggplant, grease skin and place under grill about four to five inches away. Grill, turning frequently, until the skin blackens and blisters and the flesh just begins to feel soft, 30-40 minutes. You know it is done when eggplant deflates. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, and peel off and discard the skin. Place the eggplant flesh in a bowl. Using a fork, mash the eggplant to a paste. Add the 1/4 cup tahini, the garlic, the 1/4 cup lemon juice and the cumin and mix well. Season with salt, then taste and add more tahini and/or lemon juice, if needed. Serve at room temperature.
Spicy Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Salad
with Thai Flavours
1 1/2 lbs. Japanese eggplant, ends trimmed and cut lengthwise
1 or 2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into lengthwise strips
salt and fresh ground black pepper for seasoning vegetables
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
3 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon + 1 tsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. Sriracha Sauce
1 tsp. sugar,
2 tsp olive oil for brushing vegetables
Spray grill grates with cooking spray, then preheat grill to medium-high. Brush vegetables with oil and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Cook until vegetables are nicely charred and cooked through.
As they are done remove the vegetables to a cutting board and let them cool to room temperature. While veggies cool, whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, Sriracha Sauce, sugar and oil. Cut cooled vegetables into short crosswise pieces, toss with a few tablespoons of the dressing, and let them marinate while you finish prepping other ingredients.
Slice the green onions into thin strips and chop the cilantro. Chop peanuts. Stir green onions and herbs into the salad and add more dressing until the salad is as wet as you’d like it. Serve salad in individual bowls, topped with a few spoonfuls of chopped peanuts.