Featured Ingredient: Eggplant!!
Eggplant, aka aubergine, is a fruit from the Solanaceae (nightshade) plant family. As a nightshade, it is closely related to the tomato and potato. And being part of the nightshade family, it was believed for a long time that the fruit was poisonous!
Eggplant is native to India, not the Mediterranean, as many Westerners would probably believe!
It’s been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory, and became known in the Western world only around 1500. Since it has numerous Arabic and North African names for it, it indicates it was introduced to the Mediterranean area by the Arabs in the early Middle Ages.
Different varieties of the plant produce fruit of different size, shape and color. Here in Ontario, the most common eggplants are elongated ovoid, 12–25 cm long and 6–9 cm broad and purple in colour. We also see white and graffiti (speckled purple and white), along with some Asian varieties which are long and thin (like the Japanese Eggplant) or small and round (Thai eggplant).
Cooking with Eggplant
Raw eggplant has a bitter taste, so it is almost always eaten cooked.
To salt or not to salt…?
Eggplants used to taste a lot more bitter than they do now, so it is not necessary to salt and drain the eggplant before cooking to remove bitter flavour.
If, however, you want to remove some of the moisture from the eggplant, which in turn will reduce some of the oil that will be absorbed into the eggplant (eggplant is like a sponge, and can absorb a lot of oil!), you may salt and drain it before cooking (about half an hour). For a simple roasted eggplant, for Baba Ganouch for example, you can drain the cooked eggplant after it’s been roasted (and no need to salt it excessively).
The skin of the eggplant is edible and thin, so often there is no need to peel it.
I find that many people are afraid of eggplant, and find it hard to cook with it. Start with a simple recipe, like grilling it on the bbq, or making it into a dip. You can also slice it and season and bread it and then shallow pan fry it for a few minutes on each side—great for a sandwich or the base of eggplant Parmesan. You can also use your cornmeal to crust it before frying!
Do your kids not like eggplant (can’t really blame them from the name!)? Peel the raw eggplant, cut into chunks and puree it. This pureed eggplant can be easily added (re: hidden!) in tomato sauce, especially if you make your own sauce with canned tomatoes. Sautee the pureed eggplant along with onion and garlic, add tomatoes and herbs and let it simmer until done. This makes a great sauce for everyone to enjoy!
See more eggplant recipes below!
Storage: Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate. It will last about a week in the fridge.
This is a sweet and sour eggplant relish–perfect for an antipasto dish, or even as a topping for burgers and dogs!
This easy dish can easily be halved or doubled, depending on how many veggies you have on hand. Nutritious walnuts gives it a crunch!
Baba Ghanouj (Eggplant Dip)
Try this simple recipe as it is. I’ve also made it with half the eggplant and replaced it with a 1-2 roasted red peppers–just roast them along with the eggplant, then pureed it all together. I add chopped parsley to it too! Yum! Also—instead of oiling the whole baking sheet, I brush the cut side of the eggplant with oil, then place it face down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. This makes clean-up sooo much easier!
Miso Glazed Eggplant
This is my favorite dish to order in Japanese restaurants! Most miso recipes call for Japanese eggplants, but yours will do! I would cut the eggplant into discs, then brush both sides with oil and broil both sides before adding the miso sauce.