In Season: Eggplant

by in In Season, July 25, 2011
grilled eggplant Food Network Magazine’s Hoisin Eggplant.

Grilled eggplant is a summer favorite, but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy this scrumptious delight. Check out these fun eggplant facts (did you know it’s a fruit?) and healthy, delicious recipes.

When, Where, & What?
Eggplants (Solanum melongena, Solanaceae) are part of the nightshade family along with peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. They were originally named after eggplants found in Europe that resembled an egg in shape and color. Eggplants only became acceptable to eat in the U.S. about 50 years ago; prior to that, folks believed that eating it caused insanity, leprosy and cancer.

Eggplants grow on vines, similar to tomatoes, and can be found in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. They can be white, purple, black or green and vary in length. Their shape can be spherical, curved, or long and narrow. The most common eggplants have a deep purple skin with a teardrop shape and are about 8 to 10 inches long.

Eggplants have a spongy flesh, meaty texture, and slightly bitter taste (the skin is especially bitter). Female eggplants contain more seeds and are more bitter, while male eggplants contain less seeds and have a slightly sweeter flavor. To determine the sex of an eggplant, check  the bottom: a female will have a deep indentation shaped like a dash while a male eggplant will have a shallow, round indentation.

The largest producers of eggplants in the U.S. include Florida, New Jersey and California. They’re also grown in Mexico, China, Italy, Turkey, Egypt and Japan. Popular varieties include Black Beauty, Rosa Bianca, Classic, Orient Express, Black Italian, Japanese, Lavender and Cloud 9. Eggplants are in peak season from July through October.

Nutrition Facts
One cup of cubed eggplant contains 20 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and 5 percent of your daily doses of both potassium and folate. It’s rich in flavonoids like chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid which may help fight cancer and protect cells from damage.

What To Do With Eggplant
Eggplant can be roasted, grilled, sautéed, steamed, baked and pureed. One of my family favorites is a mashed eggplant salad called babaganoush. We serve it as a pre-dinner appetizer along with hummus, tahini, tzatziki (yogurt sauce) with pita on the side for dipping.

Eggplant-based dishes are an excellent way to celebrate Meatless Monday. Use for eggplant parmesan (bread and bake instead of frying) or layer grilled slices of eggplant with tomato and a touch of hummus on some whole grain bread for a scrumptious vegetable sandwich. Toss chunks of sautéed eggplant, tomato and fresh basil with pasta, use roasted eggplant as a pizza topping, or add pickled eggplant to an antipasto platter.

Eggplant cooking tips:

  • 1 pound eggplant = 3 ½ cups chopped = 1 ¾ cups cooked
  • The peel of the eggplant can be eaten or peeled off using a potato peeler.
  • To tenderize eggplant and decrease the bitterness, sprinkle with salt, let stand for 30 minutes, and then rinse off salt.

Shopping Tip: Choose eggplants that are shiny, firm, and heavy for their size. The stems should be green.  The flesh should spring back to the touch. Avoid those with wrinkled skin, dull in color or has brown or soft spots. Store fresh eggplant in a cool, dry place for up to 2 days. For longer storage, store in a plastic bag in the front (warmer) section of the refrigerator. Cut it just before using.

Eggplant recipes to try:

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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