To get things started, the eggplant would like one thing to be clear – it is actually a fruit. However, similar to its fellow nightshade family member, the tomato, it’s often treated in meals as a vegetable (how often do you cover an apple in breadcrumbs, marinara and parmesan?).
This elongated pear-shaped fruit-vegetable doesn’t land in my grocery basket very often; I cooked with it for the first time in a college Food Lab, perplexed by its firm outer layer, yet squishy, mealy inside.
What is this large purple tube?
Grouped with tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and even tobacco, the nightshade plants are grown in the shade of the night. They produce alkaloids – one of which is nicotine – and have therefore been studied as pharmaceuticals. They’re actually a defense mechanism for plants; by design, they protect plants from insects that would normally eat them. In some human cases, these compounds can cause adverse reactions, but cooking has been shown to reduce the amount of alkaloid.
Toxic worries aside, this plant has plenty of beneficial, healthy attributes. Yes, it has plenty of nice qualities, too…
- It is made up of almost 95% water. You can’t drink it, though.
- One cup of cubed/chopped eggplant has only ~20 calories, 3g of fiber, and 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for manganese.
- It is rich in phytochemicals, some of which are being studied in relation to cardiovascular health – nasunin is an antioxidant phytochemical found in eggplant skin, and is believed to protect fats (lipids) in brain cells.
- The best season for eggplant growing runs from July – October. Perfect for Farmers’ Market grabbing!
In the world of foodies, it is a versatile “fruit” for cooking and meal-creating. One of its more popular roles is that of a chicken substitute for “Eggplant Parmesan”. It’s the base of ratatouille, and Betty says it can be boiled (5-8 minutes, until softened), steamed or sautéed (5-10 minutes, with oil or you know, Bett’s favorite, butter).
One of the most popular dishes searched on this site is the “Pasta-less Eggplant Lasagna”. Recently, I threw it into a lasagna that also had the regular noodle, cheese, vegetables layers.
The eggplant and I are still getting to know each other. I’m a sucker for the deep purple hue, and the creative push it gives me when I have it sitting on my counter, staring at me. I’m also a sucker for this Trader Joe’s red pepper eggplant dip, which has be convinced that the flavor isn’t always masked by the odd texture.
Are you an eggplant fan, or connoisseur? Do you have an eggplant favorite to add to the recipe list?