Eggplants are not particularly high in any single vitamin or mineral, but are very filling, low in calories, virtually fat-free and contribute a "meaty" texture to dishes, making them popular in vegetarian dishes. 1 cup of eggplant provides only 35 calories and 2.5 g of fibre.
Eggplants come in many varieties, ranging from pale mauve to rich purple, even yellow or white. They may be from 2 to 12 inches long and range in shape from oblong to round. The most popular variety is long and pear-shaped, with glossy purple skin. The flavour and texture of all varieties are similar.
Japanese or Asian eggplant may be solid purple or striated shades of purple. They are very narrow and straight and have tender, slightly sweet flesh.
Italian or baby eggplant is similar in appearance to the common large variety, but is smaller in size and has a more delicate skin and flesh.
White eggplant is egg-shaped, has a tougher skin and a firmer, smoother flesh. These varieties can often be substituted for the more common eggplant variety in terms of cooking, but they rarely require salting and usually benefit from a short cooking time.
Choose smaller, immature eggplants. Larger, puffy ones may have hard seeds and have a bitter flavour.
Choose eggplant that are firm, smooth-skinned and heavy for their size. Avoid eggplant with soft or brown spots.
To check for ripeness, apply gentle pressure to the flesh with a thumb or forefinger. The flesh of ripe eggplants has a slight give and bounces back - choose these. If the indentation remains, it is overripe, and if there is no give, the eggplant was picked too early - avoid either of these.
To ensure the eggplant is not dry inside, knock on it with your knuckles. Avoid those that sound hollow.
As eggplants are very perishable and become bitter with age, it is best to use them within a day or two of purchase. If you are using your eggplant the day of purchase, it can be left at room temperature.
To store, place in a cool, dry place for up to two days. For longer storage, place in the refrigerator vegetable drawer, in a clean plastic bag (optional). By some reports, they may keep for up to 2 weeks in the salad drawer of the fridge.
Eggplant can be prepared in a variety of ways, including baking, broiling, grilling and frying.
Due to its absorptive nature, it can soak up relatively large quantities of oil. There are 3 methods to limit the amount of oil absorbed: 1) salting (see below) may help reduce oil absorption through drawing away some of the moisture; 2) limit the amount of oil used or the amount of time in which the eggplant is in contact with oil; 3) if using a batter or crumb mixture, ensure the slices are well coated.
Salting - Young eggplants shouldn't need salting. Salting is used to remove some of the bitterness from overripe fruit. To do this, generously salt sliced eggplant, place in a colander and set aside for 20 minutes before rinsing, squeezing out the juice and patting dry. It may also be helpful for reducing oil absorption.
Frying - The flavour and texture of dishes that incorporate layers of sliced eggplant can be enhanced by first briefly frying the slices in olive oil. This will impart a tasty crust and soft flesh.
Baking - "Poor Man's Caviar" is made using baked, whole eggplant: pierce the skin several times with a fork and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 400ºF oven until the eggplant collapses (about 40 minutes for large and 20 minutes for Asian varieties). Let cool and use as recipe directs. For baked eggplant halves, wash and dry the whole eggplant, cut off the stem and halve lengthwise. Score the surface of the flesh and place, cut-side up, on a baking sheet, lightly brushing the flesh with olive oil. To stuff baked eggplant halves, scoop out some of the baked flesh (leave enough flesh on the skin to keep some shape), mix filling and refill halves. Place back in oven to heat or cook stuffed eggplants.
Tips: - Garlic, basil, parsley, lemon juice, hot peppers and fresh cilantro are all excellent flavour enhancers for eggplant.
- 1 pound of eggplant (approximately 1 medium eggplant) equals 3 to 4 cups chopped eggplant.
- The skin of young eggplants is delicious, and can be left on. Older eggplants should be peeled.
- Once cut, eggplant flesh discolours rapidly, so cut just before using.
Some cherish eggplant and others snub it, but all will agree eggplant is not to be eaten raw. Its flavour and texture are best enjoyed cooked.
Did You Know?
- The name "eggplant" is thought to have originated with the first specimens of this vegetable seen by English-speaking people. These fruits were egg-shaped and likely white.
- In parts of Europe, eggplant consumption was once thought to cause madness, leprosy, cancer and halitosis (bad breath). As a result, it was used simply as a decorative plant.
Healthy Ways to Enjoy Eggplant:
- Spoon leftover ratatouille into an omelette, sprinkle with feta and enjoy a quick and easy gourmet breakfast.
- Search cookbooks and the Internet for savoury breakfasts incorporating eggplant. A quick search reveals such gems as: Eggplant Omelette with Caraway and Coriander, Vegetable Gateau and Eggplant Souffle
- Leftover eggplant parmesan or ratatouille make excellent sandwiches on whole grain buns or bread. A little goat cheese or feta will enhance the flavour.
- Eggplant is famous for its role in the Greek dish moussaka: layers of ground lamb or beef, sliced eggplant, topped with a cheese sauce and baked. Vegetarian versions are also excellent. Check your favourite cookbook for a moussaka recipe or search the Internet.
- Eggplant parmesan recipes are also ubiquitous. To keep this dish healthy, limit the amount of oil used in preparing the dish and avoid deep frying.
- Toss sliced or chopped eggplant into a pasta dish, using whole grain pasta and a selection of vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, zucchini. Add garlic, onion, sundried tomatoes, pesto, olive oil or a favourite sauce.
- Eggplant caviar: a thick, puréed mixture of roasted eggplant, tomato, onion, olive oil and various seasonings, served cold or at room temperature as a dip or a spread.
- Eggplant is excellent in a variety of spreads, from bathenjane (often called eggplant salad - roasted eggplant, tomato paste, fresh garlic and spices) to baba ganoush (barbecued eggplant finely ground with tahini, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil). Serve with warmed or toasted whole grain pitas and crudites.
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