Eggplants, also known as aubergine, belong to the nightshade family of vegetables, which also includes tomatoes, sweet peppers, and potatoes. Eggplants have a dimple at the blossom end. The dimple can be very round or oval in shape. The round ones seem to have more seeds and tend to be less meaty, so select the oval dimpled eggplant.
Click here to see Amazing Eggplant Recipes
Eggplant is an excellent source of dietary fiber and bone-building manganese, and a very good source of potassium, vitamin K, magnesium, copper, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, and niacin.
Eggplant contains the phytonutrients caffeic and chlorogenic acid, and flavonoids such as nasunin. Nasunin is a strong antioxidant and free radical scavenger that has been shown to protect cell membranes from damage.
Eggplant contains oxalates, which are naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. Because of this, people with existing and untreated kidney or gall bladder problems may want to avoid eating eggplant.
Eggplant has a tough skin so be sure to use a sharp knife when cutting.
There are various types of eggplant:
Italian or Mediterranean eggplant: Teardrop-shaped or pear-shaped purple eggplant is the most common and standard eggplant.
Japanese and Chinese eggplant: Long (6 to 8 inches), slender, and lavender in color
Thai and Indian eggplant: Shades of green, purple, and lines of green and white; they are about the size of walnuts
Eggplant has a naturally occurring bitter taste that you can reduce by "sweating." Cut into the desired size and shape then sprinkle with salt. Set aside for about 30 minutes. This will pull out some of the water and it will absorb less oil when cooking. Be sure to rinse eggplant after sweating to remove most of the salt and then dab dry with paper towels.
My favorite ways to cook eggplant are to grill it and bake it:
To bake: Pierce the eggplant several times with a fork to make small holes for the steam to escape. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. When a fork pierces the skin easily, it's done.
To grill: Cut the eggplant into ½-inch rings, place in your favorite marinade for about 15 minutes, grill, then place back in the marinade quickly and serve.
Here are some great alternatives:
Make homemade baba ganoush: Purée roasted eggplant, garlic, tahini paste, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and olive oil. Dip with vegetables or use as a condiment.
Sauté cubed eggplant with peppers, onions, garlic, parsley, and spinach and top with balsamic vinaigrette.
Cut miniature Japanese eggplants in half, scoop out the flesh, then stuff with a mixture of your favorite cheese, nuts, chopped veggies, herbs, and spices. Then bake.
Add diced eggplant to your next stir-fry.
Click here to see the Eggplant Rollatini with Spinach Recipe
Eggplants aren't really vegetables, they're berries.
In Renaissance Italy, it was called a mala insana or "crazy apple."
In England, the eggplant was thought to cause madness when eaten.
According to a fifth-century Chinese scroll, fashionable Chinese women used to make a dye out of the skin of purple eggplants and polish their teeth with it until they were a shiny gray.
An eggplant is almost 95 percent water.
Click here to see Recipe SWAT Team: Eggplant
Diane Henderiks is a personal chef and culinary nutritionist on a mission to teach America how to cook and eat well. Follow her on Twitter @dhenderiks, "Like" Diane on Facebook, or visit her website.