Latin name: Solanum melongena
Other names: aubergine, brinjal
What are eggplants?
Eggplants are the fruit (botanically a berry) of annual plants in the nightshade family. They can be white with or without pink or green stripes, bright fuchsia, yellow, or completely black; they can the size and shape of an egg, built like a squat pumpkin, or as long and slender as a certain anatomically suggestive emoji.
Why are eggplants healthy?
Eggplant’s rich phytonutrient composition — particularly the flavonoid nasunin — contributes to its skin’s gorgeous purple color. Low in carbs and calories but rich in fiber, B vitamins, vitamin K, and folate, eggplant is known to help reduce inflammation, protect against cancer, and improve brain health, blood flow, and synaptic signaling.
What do eggplants taste like?
Eggplant has a mildly vegetal aroma, but doesn’t have much flavor of its own, other than the slightly astringent bitterness common to other solanums. To tone down any bitterness, salt it after cutting and then squeeze out the bitter nightshade juice before cooking. This isn’t usually necessary when using slender Asian varieties.
How do I use eggplants?
Eggplant’s true strength is its texture. Firm when raw, simmering or braising eggplant in a sauce or stew turns it meltingly silky. Its best-known applications — eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, moussaka, and baba ganouj — all take advantage of this fact.
You can use eggplant as a convincing substitute for eel in a vegan unagi or glaze it with miso and roast it for a satisfying Japanese side dish. If you want to forever convert an eggplant hater, roast slender Chinese types whole over live coals until they split, then simmer them in a sticky-sweet garlicky soy sauce and finish with chopped cilantro.
Oily eggplant salads and spreads are also staples of the Balkans and Central Asia. Along with red peppers and tomato, eggplant is a crucial component of the condiment ajvar (typically served with fluffy bread and grilled meats), similar to the Russian summer dish called “eggplant caviar.”
What does eggplant pair well with?
Eggplant’s spongy-when-raw consistency also means like tofu, it’ll slurp up any flavor within a ten-block radius. Use this to your advantage and don’t be afraid to hit it with aggressive flavors. Eggplant adores a curry and being paired with Thai basil, it loves a North African tagine, or being nestled in a pot with Scotch bonnet peppers and smoked fish for Nigerian garden egg stew.
Where do eggplants grow?
Eggplant grows throughout the Asian and African continents, as well as the Mediterranean and Middle East. The plant’s ancestors originated in Africa, spread into Asia, and now India probably grows the greatest variety of cultivars.
How to buy eggplant:
Look for shiny, firm specimens with no soft or brown spots.
Fun eggplant fact:
The Turkish people are said to have more than 100 ways to eat eggplant. This makes perfect sense when you consider eggplant was one of the favorite vegetables of the Ottoman sultans. Eggplant is still standard fare everywhere the Ottomans historically ruled.