it's the eggplant!
And, yes, in case you were wondering, the eggplant is a fruit (it is actually a variety of berry), not a vegetable!
Are you an eggplant lover? In our experience, there are not too many eggplant lovers out there. Many people we talk to say it is "spongy," chewy, or bitter. For those who do like it, the most frequent response is..."oh, I love eggplant parmesan!" Believe it or not, there are lots of other spectacular meals you can make to take advantage of eggplant’s fantastic taste and texture!
My husband and I both grew up thinking we didn't like eggplant. When I asked why he didn't like it, he said "I never really tried it. And, as a kid, I didn't like eggs, and it had the word 'egg' in it, so, I just always thought I didn't like eggplant." (Just goes to show how far we have come in learning about REAL food!)
Several years ago, we bought an eggplant at the farmers' market because we were intrigued, but definitely still skeptical. We were like most everyone else...we perceived eggplant to have a spongy texture and bitter taste and that was enough to make us avoid it up to that point. All that changed when our taste buds met the Cod Ratatouille Pasta and Mini Eggplant Pizzas!
What's so special about eggplant?
You may also hear eggplant called aubergine, which is common in parts of Europe. The eggplant is actually related to the tomato, and originally came from South and East Asia. Some 18th century varieties resembled goose or hen's eggs...hence the name "eggplant." In many parts of the country, eggplant is in-season from August through October, so now is the perfect time to enjoy it!
Is eggplant good for you?
YES! Eggplant is a great source of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants. Much of the nutrition comes from the skin...so don't peel it! Eggplant also helps your heart health, boosts your immune system, and improves your resistance to a number of diseases. One cup of eggplant only has 20 calories!
It is so true that eggplant is awesomely nutritious, and creates a wonderful variety when added to the menu. Although the number is low, it is important to know an estimated 1% of people are sensitive to "nightshade vegetables," which include eggplant, along with tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. Those who suffer with arthritis might be among the people that are sensitive. Check out our coaching tips to read more about controlling arthritis with REAL food and more about nightshade vegetables!
All shapes and sizes -- they don't all look the same!
- American Eggplant: this is the dark purple pear-shaped variety we are most familiar with.
- Chinese Eggplant: lighter purple and long and skinny, this variety has a thinner skin and tends to be less bitter.
- Italian Eggplant: smaller and a little skinnier, these are dark purple and very similar to the American eggplant.
- Japanese Eggplant: long and skinny, the Japanese variety has a thin skin and sweeter flavor.
- White Eggplant: similar to the Italian eggplant, the white variety has a firmer skin but delicate flavor.
- Thai Eggplant: this variety looks like green golf balls. They come in different colors but are usually mixed with yellow or white. They can be more bitter than other varieties.
How do you pick it?
- It should feel firm and heavy for its size.
- Look for smooth, shiny skin with no blemishes or bruises.
- The color should be vibrant and the stem and cap should be bright green.
- Wrinkled, loose skin is an indication of age. (Funny, I guess we have more in common with eggplant than we thought!)
- To test for ripeness, gently press the skin. If it springs back, it is ripe, but if it leaves an indentation, it is not ready yet.
How to store it?
- Don't cut it before storing -- it will turn slightly brown like an apple. (TIP: to reduce the brown and bitterness, you can brush lemon juice on the eggplant slices or place them in a bowl of water with a teaspoon of salt, and soak for 20 minutes. Rinse, pat dry and proceed with your recipe.) Keep in mind, this soaking step is completely optional.
- Eggplant is best stored in a cool spot away from direct sunlight (the ideal temperature is 50 to 55 degrees). If you don't have a cool, dark spot to store them, you can keep the in your fridge (ideally in the crisper) for a few days. Just be aware that cold temperatures can affect the texture and flavor.
- Using fresh eggplant within a few days will provide the best results.
What do you do with it? How do you cook it?
The good news is it's super-easy to cook! Simple ways to make eggplant taste great include sautéing, roasting and grilling (with a little olive oil, salt and pepper of course). When cooked, it has a tender, rich flavor...no spongy bitterness! Eggplant also does a great job absorbing sauces it is cooked in, making it ideal to use in curries, sauces, stews and pasta dishes...among many others!
Try to avoid frying eggplant -- it will absorb up to four times as much fat as potatoes when they are fried…this can add significant unnecessary calories to your meal.
Many recipes require you to slice and salt the eggplant, and then let it sit for a few minutes before cooking. The idea is that the salt reduces the bitterness, but this steps really isn’t necessary because modern eggplants tend to be less bitter.
There are several recipes on Eat REAL America…and, of course, we have our favorites...
- One of our absolute favorites is Mediterranean Roasted Eggplant Pasta with Lemon Garlic Fish. Roasting eggplant along with other veggies and then putting it all together in a simple pasta dish -- WOWZA - so good! And, the kids loved it and didn't even know they were eating eggplant!
- Cod and Pasta Ratatouille: from the first time we made this recipe, it blew our minds...fresh cod and grilled veggies make this one fantastic meal!
- Eggplant & Mushroom Curry
- Mediterranean Sabich
- Eggplant Burgers with Caramelized Shallots
- Grilled Veggie Sandwich
- Roasted Eggplant & Tomato Soup
- Roasted Ratatouille
- Stove Top Baked Beans
- Roasted Garlic Baba Ganoush
- Steak and Roasted Vegetable Medley, just to name a few!
We encourage you to participate in the August Superfood Challenge and try this under-appreciated veggie (or fruit) in some of these and other delicious meals!
We would love to hear your ideas of what you do with eggplant and which variety you like best!