Eggplant, or aubergine as the French and English like to call it, was first cultivated in China in the 5th century. When it was introduced to Italy in the 14th century, it was used as a decorative plant, and when brought to the Western hemisphere by European explorers, it was reputed to cause insanity and disease, so like the tomato (once thought to be poisonous), it took a while for eggplant to catch on as a culinary delight. When less bitter varieties were introduced in the 18th century, eggplant truly found its place in the kitchen. The name “eggplant” comes from yellow and white European varieties that looked like goose or hen’s eggs.
Trying to Strive for Five? Consider adding eggplant to your menu this week. It’s a very good source of dietary fiber, and—according to the USDA—it also provides potassium, manganese, copper and thiamin. It contains phytonutrients as well as vitamin B6, folate, magnesium and niacin. Like tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes, eggplant belongs to the Nightshade family of vegetables.
This mid to late summer vegetable-fruit is a good substitute for meat in lasagnas, on a bun or in a stew because of its dense texture – however once you become accustomed to its unique, complex taste profile you won’t think of it as a replacement but the star of the recipe. The ideal eggplant should be firm and heavy for its size, and the color should be vivid, with smooth and shiny skin. Avoid waxed eggplant and those with bruises, scars or discoloration. The stem and cap should be bright green. Smaller eggplants are generally less bitter than larger ones.
Use the classic large purple skinned variety when you want large pieces for a lasagna or to put, sliced, on the grill. Also popular is an Asian variety with is narrow and only about 4-inches in length. If you pick up a white, green, mauve or yellow variety at the farmers’ market, ask the farmer how they recommend preparing the fruit. Some mature eggplants are better peeled before cooking while others have a more delicate skin.
Make sure you salt your eggplant before cooking it and let it sweat for about 30 minutes before blotting off the salt with a clean kitchen towel. Like zucchini, this draws out some water but also reduces the bitterness as most of the salt escapes with the liquid. Salting also keeps eggplant from soaking up too much oil during cooking.
This classic, colorful, quick and fresh garlicky ratatouille is delicious with couscous or brown rice.
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 red or green bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 3 Tbsp minced garlic
- 1 small zucchini, diced
- 1 small yellow squash, diced
- 1 small eggplant, stem removed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
- 1/3 c minced fresh basil
- 2 Tbsp pine nuts
- Salt and black pepper to taste, depending on how much salt was removed during the preparation
- Manchego cheese, shredded or flaked, for serving, optional
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, bell peppers and garlic for a few minutes. Add the zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant and diced tomatoes (with juice) and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and simmer on low for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently. When the eggplant and squash are tender, stir in the basil and pine nuts, and taste for salt and black pepper. Remove from heat and serve warm.
Serve this delicious vegetable stew over cooked couscous or nutty brown rice sprinkled with shredded or flaked Manchego cheese, and a side of garlic green beans. Use fire-roasted instead of plain diced tomatoes for a smoky, outdoor flavor!
169 calories, 7 g. fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 59 mg. sodium, 24 g. carbohydrate, 8 g. fiber, 6 g. protein
- Use a stainless steel knife when cutting eggplant, because carbon steel will cause it to turn black.
- It’s usually not necessary to remove the skin, though large eggplants and white eggplants may have skin that’s too tough and will need to be peeled.
- To choose an eggplant gently press the skin with your thumb. If it bounces back, it’s ripe, but if an indentation remains, it’s not.
- Store uncut and unwashed eggplant in the refrigerator crisper. Use it within a day or two because it will become more bitter with age. Eggplant perishes quickly once cut, so try to purchase the size you need.
- Toss cubed eggplant with other vegetables and roast or grill.
- For condiments, reach for lemon juice, olive oil, aioli, tahini, balsamic vinegar and béchamel sauce to compliment your eggplant.
- For spices, try basil, cumin, garlic, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme for enhancement.
Recipe developed by National Co+op Grocers, Stronger Together, a business services cooperative for natural food co-ops and provided by Wheatsfield Co-op, your community-owned full service natural foods grocery store. Everyone can shop. 413 Northwestern (just off Main St), Open daily 7am-9pm.