Eggplant is one of the most exotic of all vegetables in appearance, taste and history. Until 100 years ago, it was grown in America primarily as an ornamental plant. In Japan, it is the third most important vegetable. Eggplant is a native of South Asia and Eastern Asia and is a member of the nightshade family, so it is related to the potato and tomato.
Eggplant is deep purple in color, making it one of the prettiest vegetables around. Its meaty texture makes it a perfect ingredient for main-dish vegetarian recipes. It is used a lot in Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cooking.
The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” recommend that adults need 2–2½ cups of a variety of vegetables daily. Eggplant is a good choice to help meet that nutritional requirement. Eggplant contains small amounts of several important minerals and vitamins needed daily. It is very low in sodium and suitable for a low-sodium diet. It is also low in calories, with only 30 to 35 for a 1 cup serving.
Look for firm, smooth, deep-purple skin. Heaviness and firmness of flesh are also important. Choose eggplant that is of medium size (3 to 4 inches in diameter). Avoid those with brown or blue streaks, a light color, or yellowish cast. These are of poor quality. Shriveled and flabby eggplant is often bitter and poor in flavor.
Decay may appear in any dark sunken area on the surface. Cracked skin across brown spots may indicate a storage disease that causes eggplant to spoil rapidly.
Store as soon as possible in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator at 45 to 50 degrees F. Temperatures below 45 degrees F produce chilling injuries that will appear as “water-soaked spots.” These spots are soft and spongy. High humidity is preferred for eggplant storage. If eggplant is not stored in the vegetable compartment, wrap it loosely in plastic wrap.
Use within one week of purchase.
Always cook eggplant before eating. It contains a toxic substance that is destroyed when you cook it. You should avoid frying eggplant as it soaks up oil like a sponge. Many recipes call for salting the eggplant to remove some of the water in it. Skip that step if you are trying to cut back on your salt intake. Eggplant can be baked or roasted whole. It can also be cut up and sautéed, steamed, or stewed.
At your next summertime cookout, try grilling sliced eggplant with spices.
Source: Ohio Cooperative Extension
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices
½ teaspoon salt
3 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
Place eggplant slices in a colander over a plate. Sprinkle with salt and gently toss. Let stand for 30 minutes. Rinse and drain well. Coat both sides of each slice with nonstick cooking spray. Place on a broiler pan. Top eggplant with tomatoes, basil and cheeses. Broil 6 inches from the heat for 5-7 minutes or until eggplant is tender and cheese is melted.
Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-862-4591.