Other Names: Aubergine (Britain, France), brinjal (India), eggfruit (Australia), garden egg (Africa), melanzana (Italy).
General Description: Eggplant (Solanum melongena) is most commonly a large, pendulous, teardrop-shaped purple-black vegetable that is in the Solanaceae family. Eggplant has been known since the 5th century in China; from there it spread throughout Asia and the Near East. It arrived in Europe through Italian trade with the Arabs starting in the 13th century. Till the Renaissance, Italians believed eggplants to be poisonous; its name there, melanzana, derives from the Latin mala insane, “apple of madness.”
Eggplant is cultivated throughout the world, but India, the Middle East, and Asia use it most. Good eggplant has a melting texture and meaty quality.
In America, the most common eggplant is the big, deep purple Black Beauty. Italian or Sicilian eggplants may occasionally be found in the market. These are smaller, curved, plump eggplants with deep purple skin and very firm flesh. Ivory white and graffiti eggplants may be found, especially in areas with a large Italian population. They are smooth and creamy when cooked, without the bitterness sometimes found in dark varieties. However, they do have tougher skin and larger seeds.
Asian eggplants range in color from ivory white to variegated lavender and rich purple. Smaller, rounded fruits include pale green, white, and bright orange eggplants from Thailand. Long, thin Chinese eggplants have purple calyxes; long, thin Japanese eggplants have bright green calyxes.
Season: Eggplant is available year-round, but locally grown eggplant is in season in the late summer.
Purchase: Choose eggplant that is heavy for its size, firm, and almost hard without wrinkles. Just picked, an eggplant’s skin is firm and shiny. When selecting eggplants, look for solid color all the way to the stem, without any green.
Avoid: Overgrown eggplants can be bitter and spongy. Avoid soft or spotted eggplants, or eggplants with wrinkly skin.
Storage: Eggplant will keep for about 4 days in the refrigerator but will begin to shrivel as it ages.
- Trim the stem end.
- Cut large eggplants into 1/4-inch slices.
- Peel the end slices or discard them.
- Soak in cold salted water for 30 minutes, or until the eggplant releases brown juices.
- Drain and proceed with the recipe.
Note: Small Japanese and Chinese eggplants don’t need salting.
Serving Suggestions: Dip sliced eggplant in flour, then beaten egg, then breadcrumbs, and pan-fry. Make Greek moussaka with layers of cooked eggplant, ground lamb, and tomato and red wine, and top with thick cream sauce. Mash roasted eggplant flesh with garlic, lemon, olive oil, and tahini to make Lebanese baba ghanoush. Layer fried breaded eggplant slices with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese and bake to make eggplant Parmesan.
Flavor Affinities: Capers, garlic, ginger, hot peppers, lamb, marinara sauce, melting cheeses, onions, Romano cheese, sesame oil, sesame paste, soy sauce, tomato.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com