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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

The Nutty Gourmet

Vegetarians in Paradise

On the Highest Perch

Eggplant -- A Mad Apple with a Dark Liaison


Eggplant (Aubergine) at a Glance
History Uses Name Origin Folklore/Oddities Medical Benefits/Concerns
Growing Nutrition Purchasing Preparation Recipe

The delectable, yet mystical eggplant is known by many names, some quite unflattering. When Europeans first encountered the fruit, it had gained an intimidating reputation with its "mad apple" label. Even after the eggplant developed secure Mediterranean roots, it was still called mala insana, meaning "bad egg, mad apple, or apple of madness." Lifting its perplexing veil, the eggplant reveals its family members are to blame.

Eggplant belongs to the nightshade family that encompasses members like the poisonous Jimson weed or Datura as well as Belladonna, also poisonous and sometimes called Deadly Nightshade. The eggplant, itself, during its immature growth stage, contains toxins that can cause illness.

History
Primitive man crudely grew eggplant probably centuries before plant cultivation was developed as a scientific process. Charles B. Heiser, a botanist, surmises that of the original wild varieties some probably had spiny stems and many bitter tasting fruits that were no larger than a baseball. Before man developed the alphabet and written communication, he experimented with cultivating food plants by carefully selecting seeds from those plants that tasted less bitter and grew larger fruits.

Historians believe the eggplant may have its origins in India, but early written accounts from a 5th century Chinese record on agriculture called the Ts'i Min Yao Shu indicate its cultivation in China.

Southeast Asia was also considered as a possible place of the eggplant's origin because of the many varieties found there. Some botanists believe that the plant's location of most diversity may be the place of origin, but no definitive proof exists. While eggplant is considered one of Japan's five most important vegetables, the country does not claim it originated there.

Some confusion exists about the date of the Chinese references. Some give the date as 500 BCE, while others claim it was the 5th century CE. Li-Hui-Lin writes in his Vegetables of Ancient China that records indicate China was growing eggplant in vegetable gardens from 500 BCE; however, they may not have considered it an edible until the second century BCE. As eggplant migrated throughout Asia, round shapes as well as slender elongated fruits were developed along with a variety of colors. The Koreans, too, were enjoying eggplant since ancient times. Eggplant

Eggplant arrived on the European scene when the Moors invaded Spain during the 8th century. The Italians encountered the fruit through trading with the Arabs about the 13th century. What the Europeans saw with the first arrivals of eggplant were egg-shaped fruits that were either purple, white, or yellow. Before the fruit was accepted as an edible food, it was grown only for its appealing ornamental qualities.

While the eggplant is not mentioned in classic Greek or Roman records, the fruit became quite familiar by the15th century. Throughout the 1500's Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought the eggplant to Central and North America during their many voyages. The fruit readily adapted to its new environment and flourished in the warm climates. Along with eggplant, the Spanish introduced onions, garlic, carrots, turnips, lentils, peaches, cherries, oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit when they set up colonies in Mexico.

While the 16th century Spanish explorers enjoyed the new foods they encountered in the Caribbean, they also missed their familiar diet. Subsequent ships came to the Islands bringing their favorite foods, including eggplant. The thriving slave trade also brought the fruit to the Islands from Africa. Heat loving plants such as eggplant thrived and became familiar additions to the Caribbean gardens.

During the 16th and17th centuries, English, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese explorers sailed to distant lands and discovered fruits and vegetables that they had never seen or eaten before. When they returned to their homelands with these new foods, some were readily accepted, many were not. Eggplant's nightshade connections rendered it a food of suspicious nature.

By the middle of the 1500's Southern Europe was introduced to the eggplant, but the meeting was not a friendly one at first. The strange fruits were thought to be dangerous. Eggplant's acceptance as an edible food came about a century later.

Louis XIV, King of France during the 1600s, took great interest in impressing diners at his royal table with new plant foods and was the first in France to introduce eggplant into his garden. Eggplant did not enrapture the King's guests at first. The fruit was actually discouraged at that time with the following description: "fruits as large as pears, but with bad qualities." The urban legend of the time was that eating eggplant caused fever and epilepsy.

When the first eggplants were brought to Northern Europe during the 1600s, they were not the beautiful, purple, plump one-pounders we find in today's supermarket bins. John Gerard, a 16th century horticulturist, saw a different fruit altogether and provides this description:"the fruit . . . [is] great and somewhat long, of the bignesse of a Swans egge, and sometimes much greater, of a white colour, sometimes yellow, and often browne."

The late 1700's brought the French enlightenment and changed attitudes about the fruit. Devouring grilled eggplant became a fad of the rowdy incroyables and the elegant merveileuses who partied at France's Palais Royale.

Russia experienced growth and expansion during the 16th,17th, and 18th centuries. As the Russians moved into the warmer regions of the Ukraine, they were able to grow more fruits and vegetables including eggplants that probably traveled northward from India or China.

John Parkinson, an English 17th century horticulturist, mentions "that in Italy and other hot countries, where they [the fruits] come to their full maturity, and proper relish, they [the people] doe eate them with more desire and pleasure than we do Cowcumbers."

Thomas Jefferson, son of a Virginia planter and third president of the United States, was an avid gardener and one who sought every opportunity to introduce new plants into his enormous collection through European seed imports during the 1700s. Eggplant was one of many exotic food plants he welcomed into his impressive, estate garden in Monticello.

Botanists of the 19th century considered the eggplant an ornamental rather than an edible. The fruit may have been introduced into American gardens in the early 1800's where it was grown as an ornamental. Slow to earn acceptance, it was not commonly eaten as a food until the late 1800's or early 1900's.

Though eggplant was little known in the average household of the mid 1800's, it was one of President Andrew Johnson's favorite foods, especially Stuffed Eggplant Spanish Style. Prepared for intimate gatherings, the eggplant was first halved and the flesh chopped. The stuffing was a combination of tomatoes, onions, breadcrumbs, and celery, and seasoned with basil butter, salt, pepper, and a touch of sugar. Before they were served, the eggplants were garnished with overlapping fresh tomato slices and a strip of broiled bacon.

With the arrival of Chinese and Italian immigrants to the U.S. during the late 1800s, new cuisines established permanent residence. Many cities, such as Detroit and New York, offered immigrant gardeners the use of vacant lots to grow their familiar vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers.

Eggplant was developing a firm foothold in the U.S. by the early 1900's with recipes appearing in cookbooks. Modern Cooking, a 1904 cookbook by Marion Hartland and Christine Herrick, contains a recipe for Eggplant Stuffed with Nuts.

The Harding White House was frequently bustling with guests during large formal gatherings and small intimate parties. President Warren G. Harding, inaugurated March 4, 1921, favored Eggplant Salad West Coast Style consisting of eggplant slices that were first baked, then marinated in a mixture of mayonnaise, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, Worcestershire and chili sauces. These were presented in a lettuce-lined bowl and garnished with chopped hard-cooked eggs.

Well known for his long-time vegetarian commitment, Dublin born George Bernard Shaw enjoyed a long, healthy life before he died in 1950 at age 94. Savory Eggplant, Eggplant au Gratin, and Stuffed Eggplant were among his favorite dishes created by the playwright's cook and housekeeper, Mrs. Alice Laden.

In the U.S. today's commercial eggplant crops are grown in New Jersey, California, and Mexico. While New Jersey supplies the country with eggplants during the summer months, California and Mexico are able to ship them throughout the winter.

Varieties
The Western or Globe Eggplant, with its plump, elongated pear shape and shiny deep purple color, is the most popular variety in the United States. The flesh is creamy white and turns brownish gray when cooked. When the eggplant is fresh, its flavor is delicately sweet. This variety is ideal for stuffing, sautéing, baking, and grilling.

Japanese eggplant is long and slender, about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in length and about 1 1/2-inches (3.5 cm) in diameter. Its color is usually deep purple but can sometimes be a little lighter purple with greenish patches. This variety is frequently stir-fried, grilled, sautéed, and even pickled.

Eggplant Chinese eggplant is also long and slender but is distinguished by its brilliant violet color and tender skin. Its flavor is sweet, making it ideal for stir-frying and grilling.

Italian Eggplant is small and round with white flesh and striking violet streaks and markings. This variety is unique because it retains its shape when cooked and is good for baking, sautéing, and grilling.

Another Italian variety, Listada de Gandia, is long and oval, and distinguished by its purple and white stripes. The skin may be slightly bitter but the flesh is firm and flavorful. It can be used for grilling, sautéing, baking, and stir-frying.

Thai eggplant is round and slightly larger than a ping pong ball. This variety is lavender with green stripes and has a tough skin, seedy interior, and strong flavor. Asians find this variety ideal for curries. Another variety of Thai eggplant, the Long Green, is light green, thin and long, with white flesh. The distinguishing quality is its almost seedless flesh, with a preponderance of seeds at the base, the blossom end.

The tiny Pea Eggplant, about the size of a grape, dresses in many colors: red, orange, purple or green. This variety grows in Southeast Asia, India, Afghanistan, Iran, and China and is usually made into hot pickles because of its bitter flavor.

Shaped like an egg, the White Egg variety has a mild sweetness, firm white flesh with tough, inedible skin. Because of its size and shape, it is often grilled or stuffed.

Also egg-shaped is the Garden Egg that has African origin and green skin. Another variety is the red-orange African Scarlet with the size and appearance of a tomato. This unique eggplant had an interesting sojourn. Food historian Stephen Facciola speculates that this variety may have traveled with the Jews from their home in Timbuktu, Mali, into Spain. Sometimes called the "tomatoes of the Jews of Constantinople," the African Scarlet might have journeyed to Constantinople when the Ladinos were forced out of Spain during the Inquisition.

Hailing from Puerto Rico is the Rosita, an elongated, oval eggplant with tender, lavender skin and mild white flesh.

Eggplant Cuisine
The eggplant touched many lands along its centuries-long sojourn. Everywhere it traveled, the revered fruit became infused into the cuisines -- China, India, Italy, France, the Middle East, Persia, Russia, the United States, Greece, and Turkey.

Baingan Bharta is a favorite Indian curry made by first roasting the eggplants until very soft. The flesh is scraped from the skin and combined with tomatoes, onions, and garlic, then slowly cooked with fresh and dried coriander, cumin, turmeric, and other spices until thickened and richly flavored.

Europeans like to scoop out the flesh of the eggplant leaving the uncooked rind. They roast it and mash it with salt, pepper, and butter. Then they spoon the mixture back into the rind, and bake it.

In Turkey, eggplant cubes are threaded onto shish kebab skewers along with chunks of lamb. Another beloved dish of this region is Imam Bayildi, an onion and tomato stuffed eggplant seasoned with garlic and olive oil. The country is so enamored with eggplant, the Turks claim to have 40 different ways to prepare it, including "the poor man's caviar," a roasted, mashed eggplant seasoned with onions, tomatoes, lemon juice, and salt. Eggplant

Italians serve Eggplant Parmigiano as their entrée and often begin their meal with an appetizer of Caponata, a robust mixture of sautéed bite-sized eggplant cubes, capers, chopped green olives, onions, pine nuts, and bell peppers in olive oil and red wine vinegar.

In France eggplant becomes Ratatouille, a delicious vegetable stew that includes zucchini, bell peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and herbal seasonings.

The Chinese cut the long, slender purple wonders into irregular shapes and stir-fry them with basil, or prepare the eggplant in a spicy Szechuan style.

A favorite of Middle Eastern cooks is Baba Ghanoush, an appetizer that combines roasted eggplant with sesame tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt.

Americans like to cut their eggplant into thick slices, dip them into a batter, and fry them in oil.

Slices of eggplant dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried until crisp is a familiar addition to the Japanese Tempura Plate.

Moussaka, a layered casserole featuring sliced eggplant, lamb, and béchamel sauce, is a favorite dish in Greece, Turkey, and Romania.

Many Chinese eggplant dishes originated in the Buddhist monasteries with their focus on a strict vegetarian diet.

The Spanish create en escabeche, a pickled eggplant made with small whole fruits that are round, and white.

Naming the Eggplant
While the familiar, large, purple variety of eggplant grown in North America may not seem suited to its name, many early varieties that developed in China, India, and Asia do resemble an egg in size, shape, and color.

Etymologist Ernest Klein in his English Etymological Dictionary researched eggplant's ethnic names throughout Asia and Europe to trace its journey. He began with the ancient Indian name vatin-ganah and traced a westward path to Persia where it was called badin-gan. Traveling across the Middle East, eggplant's name evolved into al-badinjan. When the eggplant reached Spain, its Catalan name was alberginia, which is very close to its present French name aubergine.

Henri Leclerc writes in his 1925 volume Les Fruits de France:

Other eggplant-loving countries have given this delicacy their own special names. In India the eggplant is called brinjal. The Moors brought the delicious nightshade to Spain where it was called la berenjena, a name that evolved into aubergine when it reached France.

In Australia the eggplant is called eggfruit, while the West Africans call it garden fruit.

Eggplant Other interesting names for the eggplant include apple-of-love, Asiatic aubergine, Guinea squash, gully bean, pea apple, pea aubergine, susumber, and terong. Still more names bestowed on the eggplant include the apple of Sodom and Jew's apple. Few foods can claim this many descriptive names.

Carolus Linnnaeus, a Swedish botanist, (1707-1778) was considered the father of taxonomy, the science of classification. He gave eggplant the species name Solanum melongena; however, there is some debate over the origin of the name. Could the name have been derived from an Arabian origin or from the Italian melazana? Before Linnaeus the eggplant may have been called Mala insana, or mad apple.

Today, the Italians call eggplant melanzana. In Greece it is known as melitzana. Both are derived from the Latin mala insana.

The eggplant belongs to the family of nightshade plants that also include the potato, tomato, pepper, deadly nightshade (also known as belladonna), henbane, Jimson weed, petunia, and tobacco. The genus Solanum is derived from the Latin solamen, a word translated as quieting and refers to the soporific qualities of some of the nightshade plants. Because a few of the nightshades truly are deadly, the effect of their poisonous narcotic traits may have suggested the term nightshade. The exact origin of the term nightshade is unknown, though some believed the plants to be evil and that they probably flourished at night.

Folklore and Oddities
A very old legend of Middle Eastern or Turkish origin tells about an Imam, a Moslem priest who marries a woman whose wealthy father earned his money as an olive oil merchant. As part of her dowry, she brought with her 12 jars of olive oil. For 12 nights the Imam's wife presented him with a dish of delicious eggplant cooked in olive oil, but on the thirteenth night there was no eggplant on his plate. Curious, he asked why. When she told him she had run out of olive oil, the Imam fainted. From that time on the stuffed eggplant dish made with onions, tomatoes, and olive oil became known as Imam Fainted or Imam Baldi or Imam Bayildi that means The Fainting Priest.

In another version of this story, the Imam was so overcome with the extraordinary flavor of the eggplant, that he fainted.

Because the eggplant is such an integral part of Turkish cooking, the fruit may appear in practically every course. A foreign visitor in Turkey once asked at the end of the meal, "just plain water, if you please, without eggplant . . . "

Eggplant is so integrated into the Middle Eastern cuisine, the fruit is even prominent in a Middle Eastern saying: "To dream of three aubergines is a sign of happiness."

The following quote obviously comes from an eggplant aficionado, "The only thing I like better than an eggplant burger is a chocolate-covered eggplant burger." --Anonymous

Medical Benefits and Concerns
Some plants of the nightshade family contain alkaloids, colorless, bitter organic substances such as caffeine, morphine, quinine, and strychnine that have alkaline properties and contain nitrogen. Some of the nightshade plants can be quite toxic; others contain mild toxins. Eggplant's toxins are contained in the fruit before maturity and in its leaves, and stems.

While some practitioners of Eastern medicine may consider eggplant beneficial in treating uterine tumors, they also recommend that people with loose stools avoid the fruit. Eggplant

For people with arthritis and related problems of the bones and joints, some physicians suggest patients eliminate foods of the nightshade family. Because this food group contains solanine, a calcium inhibitor, consuming it can further enhance mineral imbalance and add to joint pain and swelling. Doctors suggest eliminating nightshade vegetables from the diet for six weeks, then adding them back one at a time to see if the body is able to tolerate them.

Members of the nightshade family include eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, and all peppers with the exception of black pepper. These foods contain a toxin called solanine, an alkaloid that may cause diarrhea, heart failure, headache, and vomiting in some sensitive people.

For people who tolerate eggplant well, the medicinal benefits are many. Eating the fruit can reduce swelling, clear stagnant blood, reduce bleeding, comfort bleeding hemorrhoids, and treat dysentery.

Eggplant's ample bioflavonoids may be beneficial in preventing strokes and hemorrhages. The fruit contains the phytochemical monoterpene, an antioxidant helpful in preventing heart disease and cancer. The National Cancer Institute has been examining vegetables of the nightshade family, especially eggplant, to see if they may inhibit the production of steroidal hormones that encourage tumor growth. Eggplant may also prevent the oxidation of cells that leads to cancer growth.

For scorpion bites, apply raw eggplant directly on the affected area. For frostbite, prepare a tea of eggplant, bring it to room temperature, and apply a compress to affected areas.

Growing
The classification for eggplant was Solanum melanocerasum when Linneaus named it but is now officially Solanum melongena. Eggplant is often considered a vegetable, but it is actually a fruit, technically a berry with a spiny cap called a calyx.

The eggplant bush, sometimes grown for its appealing ornamental qualities, reaches 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) in height and spreads out about that same diameter. Its large, purple-tinged leaves are lobed, its violet, star-shaped blossoms very striking. The fruits can be grown in containers as well as raised beds and create an attractive border when planted in a row.

The eggplant embraces so many varieties it might seem they are from different plants altogether. Some grow small and round, about the size of eggs, others grow into skinny foot-long fruits, and some are elongated, plump, and pear shaped. Colors vary as much as do the shapes. Eggplants come in creamy white, white with green or purple stripes, and white with purple blush. The most familiar eggplants in the U.S. are all purple, plump, elongated pear shaped, and weigh about a pound. In Asian countries eggplants come in various shades from deep purple, lavender, and violet to almost pink. One variety of African origin called Turkish Orange nearly resembles a tomato with its small, round shape and bright orange color.

Because eggplant has relatives in the nightshade family, its growing needs are similar to the tomato, requiring plenty of water and hot weather. Since the eggplant is heat-loving and very sensitive to cold, it may prove beneficial to start plants indoors or in a greenhouse. Grow lights may be helpful in areas with limited sunshine. Acclimate the seedlings slowly to the outdoors at about 6 to 8 weeks when the weather warms up.

In the United States where the climate is considered temperate, the eggplant is considered an annual. In tropical countries eggplant grows as a perennial.

Eggplant prefers rich soil that is sandy and moist and does poorly in clay soil that retains water at the root. If soil is not ideal, add well-composted amendments. When applying humus, make sure it is well composted. Mulch is beneficial to help retain moisture in dry climates. Keep the soil well fertilized and thoroughly weeded.

Choose varieties suited to your climate. Plant well-watered seedlings about 3 to 4 feet (.9 to 1.2 meters) apart. A healthy plant will produce about 3 to 8 eggplants, though it may offer more when conditions are ideal. To produce larger fruits, pinch off some of the terminal growth or the blossoms. When fruits appear, make sure the blossom drops off. When growing the larger varieties of eggplant, you may want to support the plant with stakes to prevent damaging the stems.

Eggplants are subject to a fungus disease that kills young plants and damages older plants. The disease may be carried in the seeds. To avoid the problem, soak the seeds in hot water, about 122 degrees F. (50 C.) for about 25 minutes before planting. To avoid wilt disease, do not put the eggplant seedlings in the same spot year after year.

To harvest, use pruning shears or scissors to cut the fruit off the stem. Because the stems are tough and woody, it's nearly impossible to tear or pull the eggplant off its stem. Wear gloves when harvesting to avoid injury from the spiny stems.

To determine when the eggplant is ready for harvesting, press the skin gently with the thumbnail. When it leaves an indentation, the fruit is mature. Eggplants can be taken off the bush when they are one-third grown. Picking the fruits young may also stimulate more eggplants to grow. Make sure the fruit has a firm, glossy appearance. If the eggplant is allowed to stay on the bush too long, the skin becomes dull looking and the flesh will become bitter and seedy.

Nutrition
While eggplant is unable to boast about its vitamin content, it does have some nutritional merits. Low in calories and sodium, eggplant can also be counted on to deliver plenty of minerals. Eggplant also contains the phytochemical monoterpene that may be helpful in preventing the growth of cancer cells.

One Cup (240 ml)
Eggplant is a great addition to a dieter's menu with only 28 calories and 3 grams of sodium for 1 cup (240 ml) of boiled drained cubes. Almost fat-free, that quantity contains 0.2 grams of fat. To keep the calories low in eggplant preparations, cook it without oil. Instead, use broth, wine, lemon juice, or vegetable juice for flavoring.

Not a major source of protein or carbohydrates, eggplant does contain 1 gram of protein and 7 grams of carbohydrates. Keep the skin on the eggplant to receive 2.5 grams of dietary fiber. Eggplant is high in soluble fiber beneficial in lowering cholesterol.

3 1/2 Ounces (100 grams)
Vitamin contents include 64 I.U. of vitamin A, 14.4 mcg of folacin, and 1.3 mg of vitamin C.

A plus on the mineral side, eggplant delivers 21.4 mg of calcium, 13.0 mg of magnesium, 248 mg of potassium, and 22 mg of phosphorous.

To boost the nutritional benefits, pair eggplant with other vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, and peppers.

Purchasing and Storage
The freshest eggplants are available at local farmers' markets. Usually the fruits and vegetables have been picked the day before and offer richer flavors. Local farmers usually plant eggplant in the spring and bring them to market from mid summer to October. Commercial eggplants are available in supermarkets throughout the year.

Look for eggplants that are shiny, plump, firm, and unwrinkled, definitive signs of freshness. The fruit should feel heavy for its size, indicating good moisture content. Eggplants that have scars or bruises on the surface indicate the flesh may be bruised and discolored inside.

Eggplant One indicator of freshness is the appearance of the stem or calyx. Make sure it is green and bright in color. Beware of eggplants on sale. They may be old, bruised, soft, dull in color, and wrinkled. The older eggplants tend to have a bitter, acidic taste. Press gently with the thumb on the skin of the eggplant. If it is fresh, the eggplant skin will spring back quickly.

Bert Greene in his Greene on Greens and Grains quotes his first cooking instructor who said, "that over-the-hill eggplant betrayed its age precisely in the same manner as over-the-hill debutantes: slack skin and slightly puckered posteriors!"

Though some people have claimed that male eggplants have fewer seeds and can be recognized by their roundness at the base or blossom end, the truth is that eggplants have both male and female characteristics and are self-pollinating. To avoid an overly seedy eggplant, select small and medium-size fruits rather than the giant-size.

Eggplant does not have a long shelf life. Store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and cook it within 3 or 4 days. Since eggplants bruise easily, they should be handled carefully.

Preparation
Wash the eggplant well. Depending on your preparation, you can peel it with a vegetable peeler or paring knife or leave the peel on. Leaving the peel on increases its fiber content. However, the larger deep purple eggplants sometimes have a bitter skin along with a thin layer of bitter flesh just under the skin. Lengthy cooking, about 20 to 30 minutes, usually tames the bitterness.

When cutting the eggplant, use a steel knife to avoid blackening the delicate flesh. Carbon knives cause discoloration.

Eggplant's versatility makes it an all-purpose delectable that can be baked, sautéed, fried, grilled, boiled, and braised. Slice it lengthwise, crosswise, or at an angle. Shred it, cube it, dice it, puree it, chop it. Employ your creativity. You can stuff it, puree it and make it into a sauce, use it as a wrapper, include it in a stuffing, or employ it as a soup thickener.

Eggplant is best cut shortly before cooking. Once peeled, eggplant flesh turns brown or oxidizes quickly. Cook it soon after peeling or brush it with lemon juice.

Because the flesh of the eggplant is so porous, it has a tendency to absorb oil quickly. Avoid dipping slices into oil or they will absorb enormous quantities. Instead, brush on a light coating of oil just before cooking. To prevent overuse of oil when sautéing eggplant, add a little water to the pan along with the oil. Salting the eggplant before cooking may also prevent it from absorbing excess oil. An Australian study revealed that when the eggplant was deep-fried, a single serving had absorbed 83 grams of fat in 70 seconds.

Be sure to cook eggplant thoroughly to bring out its sweetness. Raw eggplant, especially a slightly overripe one, does not have a pleasing flavor.

Salting
Salting the eggplant to leach out the bitterness is a long-standing tradition among Middle Eastern and European cooks. This technique usually applies to the large, plump eggplants rather than the long, thin variety. The thin eggplants tend to be drier in general. Some cooks say the salting process may or may not actually release the bitterness but find that salting the eggplant prevents it from absorbing excessive amounts of oil, and releases excessive moisture.

Salting, however, is not essential. Truly fresh eggplants have a deliciously delicate sweetness and would be much better left alone.

If you prefer to salt, the salting process is easy. Slice the eggplant, sprinkle salt on each slice, and layer slices in a colander with a dish underneath to catch the moisture that drains out. Set aside for about 20 to 30 minutes, then wipe slices with a paper towel or rinse off the salt before cooking.

Another method of ridding the eggplant of acidic flavor is to blanch it for no more than one minute before the desired preparation. To blanch: bring a pot of water to boiling and drop in the eggplant. Boil for one minute and remove with a slotted spatula.

Excellent companions to eggplant cookery include olive oil, onions, tomatoes, garlic, lemon, olives, nuts, and spices like pepper, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, chili powder, and ginger.

While the focus is on brief cooking times for most vegetables to help retain their valuable vitamins, eggplant has few vitamins, and lengthy cooking does not destroy its minerals. Undercooked eggplant can taste somewhat astringent and unpleasant.

To prevent discoloring the eggplant, avoid cooking it in aluminum pans which tend to react with acidic vegetables.

RAW
According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, a division of the Center for Disease Control, eggplant should not be eaten raw because of its toxin containing solanine that may cause gastrointestinal upset.

COOKING
Roasted or Grilled: Traditional preparation throughout the Middle East is to roast the whole eggplant over a gas flame or barbecue grill, turning with tongs, until soft and blackened to give it a definitive smoky flavor. This method is a typical beginning for preparing Baba Ghanoush.

Prepare an Eggplant Caviar appetizer by cooking a large whole eggplant over gas flames, turning frequently until soft and well blackened. Cool, scoop out flesh, and season with lots of chopped onions, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and a little olive oil. For more expressive caviar, add garlic, olives, or tomato paste.

Sautéed: Another great starter is Caponata, a traditional Italian appetizer. Chop a whole-unpeeled eggplant into bite-size cubes, and sauté them in olive oil with onions and green bell peppers until soft. Add fresh tomatoes, chopped green olives, capers, and a little wine vinegar. Season to taste with salt and a pinch of sugar.

Sliced eggplant can be dipped in a breading mixture and sautéed in oil, then drained on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Oven Roasted: Enjoy an Eggplant Sandwich that suits your palate. For a lean meal, slice a plump eggplant crosswise into thick slices, and roast it on a lightly oiled baking sheet at 375 F. (Gas Mark 5) for 25 minutes. Slip it into a whole-wheat pita with sliced tomatoes, sweet onions, romaine lettuce, and your favorite condiments. For a more lavish treat, fry the eggplant slices in olive oil until tender and spread your pita or bread with vegan mayonnaise or an olive tapanade. Add your favorite fixings like lettuce and tomato and enjoy.

Eggplant Baked: Baked eggplant is an easy cooking method that requires practically no effort. Prior to baking, be sure to pierce the eggplant in several places with a fork to prevent it from exploding in the oven. Bake at 350 F. to 375 F. (Gas Mark 4 to 5) for about an hour. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and season to taste.

Braised: Prepare a delicious Ratatouille, a well-known French vegetable stew, by sautéing eggplant chunks along with zucchini, tomatoes, onions, and garlic in olive oil. Add tomato juice and traditional herbs and seasonings, cover the pan, and allow it to simmer about 20 minutes.

Broiling or Grilling: Slice eggplants thickly, brush with oil, and place under the broiler or directly on the barbecue grill. Watch them carefully to avoid burning. Cooking will be brief, probably no more than 5 minutes on each side. Season as desired.


A hearty Mediterranean dish with Greek ancestry, this entrée is pure heaven to walnut and eggplant lovers. Its exceptional flavor comes from the combination of cinnamon, tomato paste, and capers. Because the stuffed eggplant is so special, I keep the rest of the meal simple with stir-fired or steamed vegetables, bulghur wheat, and a tossed salad.

Walnut Stuffed Eggplant is one of the delicious recipes from Zel Allen's cookbook The Nut Gourmet: Nourishing Nuts for Every Occasion published by Book Publishing Company in 2006.

WALNUT STUFFED EGGPLANT

Yield: 4 hearty servings

    2 1-pound eggplants (450g each)
    1/2 pound (225g) tomatoes, chopped

    1/4 pound (115g) cremini or button mushrooms, sliced

    1 cup (240 ml) chopped onions
    4 large cloves garlic, minced
    2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    Freshly ground black pepper

    2/3 cup (160 ml) walnuts
    1 6-ounce (170g) can tomato paste
    3 heaping tablespoons capers, well drained

    2 to 3 small ripe tomatoes, sliced
    Salt

  1. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, slicing through the stem end. Using a curved, serrated grapefruit knife, scoop out the flesh, leaving a 1/4-inch (.5 cm) thick shell, and coarsely chop the flesh. Put the chopped eggplant into a large, deep skillet or flat bottom wok.
  2. Rub the inside of the eggplant shells with a small amount of olive oil and place them on a baking sheet. Place the eggplant shells under the broiler and broil them 3 inches (7.5 cm) from the heat source for 5 to 10 minutes, until fork tender. Watch carefully to prevent burning. Remove the eggplant shells from the broiler and set them aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (Gas Mark 5). Add the chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, garlic, olive oil, salt, cinnamon, and pepper to the skillet with the chopped eggplant, and cook and stir for 7 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
  4. Coarsely grind the walnuts in a nutmill and add them to the skillet along with the tomato paste and capers. Mix well.
  5. Fill the eggplant shells with the vegetable mixture and top with tomato slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake, uncovered, for 25 to 35 minutes. .


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