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Eggplant

Eggplant

Creating today's eggplant took years of cultivation, but now the bulb is a flavorful big seller, thanks in part to its unique texture and mild taste

Nutritional Highlight

  • Eggplant has just 30 calories in an 85g serving.

History

If the eggplant looks a little alien to you, it may be because this veggie has a long and weird history. For starters, eggplant isn't technically a vegetable at all. It's a fruit — a berry, in fact. Eggplant has been part of Indian, Turkish, French and Italian cuisine for quite some time, but it took centuries of cross-breeding to eliminate most of the bulb's bitter flavor. In the 1700s, none other than Thomas Jefferson introduced the eggplant to the U.S. Today, most domestic eggplant crops grow in Florida and New Jersey.

Varieties

Eggplant comes in many shapes, sizes and hues. The most common type, often called Italian eggplant, is deep purple and pear-shaped. Other varieties come in pale purple and even white. Japanese eggplant, on the other hand, is typically dark violet but has a long, cucumber-like shape. Thai eggplant is golf-ball sized and comes in purple, green, yellow and white.

When is Eggplant in Season?

You can buy eggplant any time, but the U.S. crop peaks between July and October.

How to Choose Eggplant

The best bulbs seem heavy for their size, with bright green caps and brightly colored skin. A good eggplant will feel fleshy, with yielding and slightly springy quality. Avoid eggplants that are discolored, scarred, wrinkly or bloated-looking, as these may be starting to go bad.

How to Store Eggplant

Place eggplant in the refrigerator, being careful not to cram it into the veggie drawer if it won't fit. (This can bruise its skin.) Also, be aware that temperatures that are too cold or warm can make eggplant spoil faster, so consider storing it at the top of the fridge section, where it won't get over-chilled.

How to Cook with Eggplant

Most eggplant needs little more than to be washed, sliced into circular sections and then baked or fried. However, there are a couple things to keep in mind with bigger bulbs, which can be tougher to prepare. First, consider peeling the skin from a big eggplant, since it can be quite thick. And second, larger bulbs can be more bitter than smaller ones. If you slice open a large eggplant and notice that its seeds are fairly brownish, this is a sign that you may need to "degorge" it. This procedure has a strange name, but it's a handy way to eliminate bitterness. Simply sprinkle salt liberally on both sides of your eggplant slices, then let them sit in a colander for half an hour. They will develop beads of moisture on their surface, which contain bitter-tasting compounds. Rinse these away thoroughly, pat dry and you're ready to cook!

Key Measurements

Eggplant is typically measured in cups (diced) or in individual slices.

Substitutions

To get a flavor and texture like eggplant's, you can also try portobello mushrooms, which are similarly spongy and mild-tasting. Either one makes a great meat substitute, and can be grilled just like a steak.

Eggplant in Recipes

Eggplant is tailor-made to satisfy a hungry stomach. Some nice, thick, grilled slices make Grilled Eggplant Pizza Sandwiches the perfect summer lunch, especially with melted mozzarella cheese.

Or if you have a hankering for take-out, stay in and make this Roasted-Vegetable Pizza, which packs more flavor and can be prepared in under an hour.

Finally, for a sophisticated European-style supper, stir-fry eggplant into tomatoes and bell peppers, and use it as the basis for a Mediterranean Sole with Ratatouille.

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