Cooking Vegetables: Eggplant

If ever there was a vegetable that looks like it fell from another world, it’s the eggplant. Also known as an aubergine, melongene or guinea squash, eggplant is in the same family as deadly nightshade. As we continue our series of posts about cooking vegetables, this purple-skinned alien is in our spotlight.

Eggplant is related to the tomato and the potato. It is most closely associated with cuisines of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, where it originated. Technically, the eggplant is a berry, containing edible seeds. But the seeds contain nicotine, just like tobacco.

There are many varieties in all sorts of sizes, shapes and colors. The most common is the European variety, that purple ovoid we think of when we think eggplant.

Shopping. Choose eggplants that have smooth, glossy skins without wrinkles or spongy spots. They should be heavy for their size and feel solid.

Preparation. Whether you peel your eggplant depends on how you plan to cook it and your personal taste. Usually, it is cut into round slices about a 1/4 inch thick, but it can also be cubed for braising or sautéing. Salting and soaking the pieces for a minute or two will take out bitterness in the flesh.

General cooking rules. Anytime you cook this plant in any kind of oil or fat, be sure to add a little extra, especially after the cooking has begun. Eggplant will absorb a lot of that fat. Salting will reduce the amount of fat it absorbs.

Stewed. You usually see this method used when eggplant is part of a vegetable stew like ratatouille or musakka. It should be sautéed by itself in olive oil, like all the other vegetables, before being added to the whole dish. After sautéing, place the pieces on paper towels to drain, whether served by itself or part of a larger dish.

Grilling. Eggplant does really well on a grill. Coat well in olive oil and season with salt and pepper before putting on the grill. When one side is browned over medium heat, turn and brown the other side. This takes about 8 minutes.  Grilled eggplant is good by itself, topped with a sauce like marinara or made into another dish like baba ghanoush.

Deep frying. Take the slices and make sure they are completely dried with paper towels. Dip the slices in a simple batter made with egg, flour, milk and seasoning. Then fry well for about four minutes or until golden brown in color.

Braise. Mix cubed eggplant and a jar of salsa in pan over medium heat. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often.

Roast. Preheat the oven to 500. Coat the eggplant slices in olive oil and lay them out in a even layer on a cookie sheet or baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, turning once during the process.

Eggplant Parmesan. This popular dish involves dipping the eggplant slices in an egg wash and then coating in breading. Using a mixture of bread crumbs, flour and corn meal in the breading makes it a little less likely to fall apart. Fry in about two tablespoons of oil, more if the pan is larger. Turn at least once for even browning, then top with hot tomato sauce and a slice of Provolone cheese.

As you can see this is a versatile vegetable. It’s also healthy. Studies show eggplant can help reduce high cholesterol. However, these studies are not conclusive. For sure, eggplant contains antioxidants. If you’re worried about the nicotine, the amount is high for a non-tobacco plant, but not when compared to tobacco. It takes about 20 pounds of eggplant to equal the nicotine in a single cigarette. Some people are allergic to eggplant and get itchy skin when they eat it.

Since we need to be eating more vegetable, consider welcoming this alien looking pod into your kitchen.

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