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July 31st, 2017

An “Egg(plant)”-cellent Choice

by Yael Ben-Chaim

Did you know,  in the 1700’s, when eggplants were first cultivated they were rounder and yellow or white; similar in aesthetics to an egg, hence the name eggplant.

In Italy, ubiquitous and affordable eggplant (also known as aubergine) is often called the poor man’s meat. When cooked, this vegetable takes on a hearty sumptuous texture making it perfect for vegetarian main courses.  Eggplants are in the nightshade or Solanaceae family, along with potatoes and tomatoes. Like tomatoes, eggplants grow from the vine and are also technically a fruit.

Nutrition:

Eggplants are a fibrous vegetable. Fiber is necessary for a balanced diet and to maintain a healthy gastrointestinal system. Fiber helps to regulate digestion and in the absorption of other nutrients. Eggplants are also high in vitamin K, a fat soluble vitamin that prevents blood clots and maintains bone density.  The Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin K is 120 micrograms and 90 micrograms for men and women respectively. One cup of cooked eggplant contains about 3 micrograms of vitamin K.

As a vegetable high in vitamin B6, eggplant assists the body in energy production. Vitamin B6, as well as other B vitamins, convert carbohydrates – which are a complex sugar – into glucose, a simple sugar which the body can then use for energy. The Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin B6 for adults is 1.3 milligrams.

Selection:

The smaller the eggplant, the sweeter it will be. Select eggplants that feel heavy for its size, with smooth and shiny skin. Avoid eggplant with blemishes, cuts, or wrinkles. The most common variety of eggplant is a deep purple color, but other varieties can be light purple, white, or have white or green stripes. The different sizes, shapes and color patterns of eggplant, indicate the variety and can be a fun way to incorporate unique splashes of color on your dinner plate.

Storage:

Eggplants are a fragile vegetable that do not store well for long periods of time. Eggplants should be stored on the counter-top in a cool and dry area where they will keep for approximately two days. Check eggplants frequently for soft spots or discoloration as they are sensitive to light and temperature changes.

Eggplants are sensitive to ethylene, a gas emitted by fruits like apples, bananas and tomatoes; keep eggplants away from these to avoid premature or over -ripening.

To store eggplant long term, you can blanch them using the directions below. Blanched eggplants will last for a year in the freezer.

Blanching:

  • Cut eggplant into the size of your choice.
  • Boil with 1 teaspoon lemon juice for four minutes.
  • Place in ice bath for four minutes.
  • Dry and drain eggplant.
  • Place in plastic bag or freezer safe container.

Freezing eggplant will soften it; cook in a soup, stew or sauce!

Pairing and Preparation:

Eggplant has a great ability to absorb other flavors; cooking eggplant simply with olive oil, salt and herbs such as oregano or basil will give it Mediterranean flavors, or sauté it with ginger and soy sauce and eggplant takes on Asian notes.

Eggplant absorbs oil and spices like a sponge. To avoid soggy eggplant, lightly brush eggplant with oil before sautéing it. It is okay to be frugal with oil and spice when cooking eggplant!

Recipe:

Flourless Eggplant Pizzas from All Recipes

Ingredients:

  • ½ large eggplant, sliced into thin rounds
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup tomatoes sauce
  • 1/3 cup cheddar cheese
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Arrange eggplant rounds on a baking sheet; lightly coat with olive oil
  3. Bake eggplant rounds in preheated oven until hot, about 5 minutes
  4. Flip the eggplant rounds; top with Parmesan cheese in an even layer to cover. Return eggplant to oven and bake until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes
  5. Drop a dollop of tomato sauce into the center of each eggplant round; top with Cheddar cheese
  6. Bake until cheddar cheese is bubbling, about 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper to serve
About the Author Yael Ben-Chaim

Yael is a food-lover, interested in local food systems and farmers markets. Follow Yael's blog posts on farmer market produce, recipes, and nutrition information. Yael is an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Maryland Farmers Market Association and is developing a seasonal food education program for MDFMA.