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Monday, January 14, 2013

Eggplant:


The eggplanat is  member of the nightshade family of flowering plants closely related to the tomato, green pepper, and potato.  The fruit is fleshy with a meaty texture.  The eggplant is botanically clasified as a berry and contains numerous small seeds which are edible but have a bitter taste.  Some of the 18th century varieties were yellow or white and resembled goose or hen's eggs which led to the name"eggplant".

The eggplant is native to the Indian subcontinent and has been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory, but appears to have been introduced to the Mediterranean area by arabs in the early Middle Ages. Thomas Jefferson, who grew several varieties in his Virginia garden, is credited with introducing the eggplant to North America.

As an Italian kid growing up, my introduction to eggplant was eggplant parmagiana.  Eggplant  breaded and fried and then layered between layers of tomato sauce  and mozzarella cheese. In Italian we call it "melanzana".   When in college I was introduced to  "caponata", a Sicilian vegetable dish that is used like a relish.  While I love eggplant parmagiana, caponata is my favorite.

Eggplants have small amounts of nutrients, and are naturally low in calories. Unpeeled eggplants provide some fiber, and there is also some folate and potassium.  Compounds found in eggplants are anti-cancer, antimicrobial, anti LDL (bad cholesterol), and antiviral.

Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size, with smooth and shiny skin and vivid color.  Avoid discoloration, bruises, and scars. Eggplants are very perishable and sensitive to heat and cold .  Ideally store at 50 degrees for a few days.  Most eggplants are eaten with or without the skin.  To tenderize the flesh and reduce some of the bitterness you can sweat the eggplant.  After it has been cut lightly salt and let rest for 30 minutes.  Then rinse to remove most of the salt.   Eggplants are available throughout the year but are best from August to October.

Persons with already existing and untreated kidney or gall bladder problems may want to avoid eggplant because they contain oxalates which can become concentrated in fluids and then crystallized causing health problems.

Eggplants are delicious hot or cold.  They can be marinated, stuffed, roasted, grilled, or fried.   They can be used in casseroles, stews, or brochette.  Eggplant with tomato and onions is a natural (as in Ratatouille).

So.....Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.