Originating from India, the eggplant is a traditional part of Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean diets, all of which have been touted for their heart-healthy benefits. Eggplants are generally oval shaped with a deep purple skin contrasting with a creamy white, spongy centre. In the summer, small, light purple and round, white varieties are also available. Small, slender varieties are usually more tender and sweet. Their meaty and filling texture is great for vegetarian dishes like eggplant parmesan, vegetable stew (ratatouille), and the ever popular baba ghanoush dip.
Selection and storage
Choose eggplants that feel plump and heavy for their size, with a dark purple glossy skin. They should be free of scars or soft spots, with a fresh green cap. Don't go for the huge ones because these may be less meaty, have more seeds and taste bitter. Look for an oval dimple on the plump end; a round shaped dimple tends to signal a seedier fruit with less meat. Eggplants should be used quickly but can be stored in the refrigerator covered in plastic for up to five days. With time, the bitterness intensifies and soft brown spots will develop.
Although eggplants are not packed with nutrients, one cup of cooked eggplant offers about 28 calories, fibre, potassium and a small amount of folic acid. Nasuins, antioxidants in the purple variety, are thought to block the formation of cell-damaging free radicals that can cause heart disease.
Ever wonder why people salt and press eggplant before cooking? This draws out the bitter juices, improves taste and reduces the amount of fat that is soaked up during cooking. After thirty minutes, the eggplant is rinsed, patted dry and is ready to be baked, broiled, grilled, stuffed or stewed. Eggplants do not have to be peeled, but should always be cooked to destroy the solanine, a toxic substance that may cause headaches for some people.