In Season: Eggplant
There aren’t many vegetables I don’t love, and it would be tough to narrow my favorites down to a top 10 list. If I had to, though, eggplants would definitely make the list. Friends often ask, “Are there ways to prepare them other than fried eggplant?” Yes, of course!
Eggplants are members of the nightshade family along with tomatoes and potatoes. Most folks recognize the classic teardrop shape and dark purple skin, but eggplants can also be round, long, fat and skinny and have white, black, white with purple stripes and pale lavender skin. The inner flesh is off-white and spongy with tiny edible seeds. Their season runs from July through October, and while they're commonly grown throughout the world, most of the ones in the U.S. comes from Florida and New Jersey.
Eggplants seem to be one of those love-'em-or-hate-'em veggies. They've certainly sparked all kinds of food folk lore through the years. Claims going back hundreds of years link them to insanity and leprosy and even call them an aphrodisiac. Myths aside, they're a good-for-you, low-cal veggie. One cup of cooked eggplant has 2 grams of hunger-curbing fiber and only 35 calories. It also contains some iron, potassium, vitamin K and chlorogenic acid, a cancer-fighting antioxidant.
An eggplant's inner flesh is pretty mild, with a hint of bitterness. The skin is also edible, but can be a bit tough and very bitter. To remove some of the bitterness, you can salt cut pieces or slices and let them sit for 20 to 30 minutes (be sure to rinse well before cooking). In my experience, some eggplants are much more bitter than others; every once and while I come across a really bitter one (not my favorite). This may be a sign that they’re old.
You can bake, boil, roast, pickle or fry eggplant pieces. Their meaty texture works great in pasta dishes, casseroles and stuffed peppers. I often add diced cubes to stir-fry and grill thick slices with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for sandwiches. In my version of eggplant parm, I bread and bake the eggplant and instead of frying -- this slashes the calories and fat by almost half! I also roast diced eggplant along with chunks of onion, pepper and garlic, throw it all in a food processor and puree for a sweet and savory eggplant spread, which you can use on sandwiches, wraps and dipping veggies and pita chips.
Shopping Tip: Choose eggplants with shiny and smooth skin. Pass on ones with wrinkles or brown spots. Once cut, the flesh begins to turn brown quickly so peel or cut the eggplant just before using. Eggplants don’t like super cold environments; store them in a cool, dry place on the counter for a day or two. They will keep a bit longer in the front of the refrigerator in a plastic bag.
Eggplant Recipes to Try: