The Incredible, Edible EGG…plant

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It doesn’t taste like an egg, doesn’t really look like an egg, wants to be a vegetable but is botanically a fruit. It is too often pegged as a Mediterranean recipe ingredient, and to make matters even worse, some complain that it’s either too spongy, too bitter, too bland, not enough this or too much of that.

Eggplant has an identity problem.

And where can you find a great eggplant dish on the menu nowadays?

Well, unless your family STILL cooks at home or you DO love Mediterranean restaurants, you can forget about introducing your kids to eggplant because you WON’T find it on your school’s lunch program or at any of the more popular fast food chains.

Eggplant has been left to the realm of foodies and to those who still have their recipes written on 3” x 5” cards.

But eggplant has grown on me, especially during the last 10 years while I’ve been at Nino’s. Depending on the season, we have at least a half-dozen different varieties of eggplant in the store for me to choose from.

Actually, eggplant is a pretty versatile vegetable. It can be used in recipes as an ingredient, used structurally like a puree to give body to soups and sauces, or cut into thick disks and hollowed into cups. It can be sliced and grilled as a sort of sandwich bread, or it can be sliced into even thinner panels, breaded, and then used as a wrap.

Try doing THAT with a tomato, will ya?

Being somewhat bland, eggplant uses that to its advantage, as it can easily meld into any recipe’s flavor, or conversely, it can be seasoned to taste like anything you want!

Eggplant is considered a fruit, but botanically, it’s actually a berry. Related to the potato and tomato, it’s a member of the nightshade family. The name eggplant in the United States, Australia, and Canada developed from the fact that the fruits of some 18th-century European cultivars were yellow or white and resembled goose or hen eggs.

The more common eggplant varieties include what anyone would probably say is THE eggplant, the Western “Globe.” Then, you have the roundish Regina eggplant; the smaller, narrower Japanese or Asian eggplant; and the Italian or baby eggplant, which looks like a miniature version of the common Globe variety. The different types of eggplants range in color from deep, vibrant purple to pale, almost translucent white, and they’re found in sizes from two inches to nearly a foot.

Eggplant can be cooked with or without the skin on (It’s more a matter of appearance and texture than taste.), but ironically, among the biggest knocks on eggplant are the occasional abundance of seeds and the bitterness in some of them.

Eggplants have seeds of course–some more than others. The seeds are completely edible, albeit a bit bitter. Some chefs use the terms Female and Male eggplant when speaking about the amount of seeds (the female having more). But in all honesty, all eggplants are self-pollinating, and therefore, are BOTH male and female.

The luck (or rather un-luck) of purchasing an eggplant with a lot of seeds is rather random, although occasionally, a lot will come through from a farm on which an entire field had eggplants, and they were only partially pollinated (Botanists believe this causes the excessive interior seeds.). Generally however, most eggplants don’t have an excessive amount of seeds.

On the bitterness, I can recommend a tip. When using your eggplant, after slicing, salt each side and place between paper towels for 15 to 20 minutes. Pat gently, and you will notice moisture on the paper towel. This step will help remove some of the bitterness of the eggplant juices, which will make the resulting taste more sweet and pleasant.

Ready to try an eggplant recipe?

I’ll recommend one in our Entrée Recipe section called Eggplant Rollatini. It uses eggplant as a wrap around basil pesto seasoned angel hair pasta and topped with Marinara Sauce.

It’s one of my very favorite eggplant dishes.

Another one of my favorite uses for eggplant is the classic Eggplant Caponata. It can be served cold or warm as a Tapenade with toasts and is a VERY healthy dish. It even works well as an alternative sauce over grilled chicken or fish.

Eggplant Caponata

Serves 6

3 Cups Eggplant, Regina (Your Choice) Large Dice, Salted & Rinsed
3 TBSP Olive Oil
¾ Cup Sweet Onion, Medium Dice
2 tsp Garlic, Fresh, Minced
1 Lg Tomato, De-Seeded, Large Dice
¼ Cup Kalamata Olives, Pitted, Rough Chopped
1 TBSP Balsamic Vinegar
1 TBSP Olive Oil
¾ Cup Colorful Bell Peppers, Medium Dice
1 TBSP Capers, Drained, Chopped
2 TBSP Pine Nuts, Toasted, Whole
1 ½ TBSP Parsley, Italian, Chopped
1 tsp Oregano, Fresh, Chopped
To Taste Kosher Salt & Black Pepper

Method:

1. In a large sauté pan, sauté the eggplant in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until golden in color.
2. Add the onions, and sauté until soft. Then add the garlic and cook an additional minute.
3. Remove pan from the heat and place the sautéed mixture into a medium-sized mixing bowl.
4. Add all of the other ingredients, and mix well.
5. Serve chilled or at room temperature, with sliced bread, toasted bread, or crackers.