What is Eggplant?
I am always surprised when I learn that a vegetable that I have been eating all my life is, in fact, a fruit. The eggplant is no exception.
Eggplants belong to the nightshade family of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum or bell peppers are also nightshades.
Although I have to admit I was surprised to see potatoes in the same grouping. I guess it’s because they are the edible parts of flowering plants, just like the other aforementioned vegetables (sorry….fruit!).
They have been cultivated for many years and can be traced back as far as 600 BC in China although originating from India.
It is said that the early varieties were white and smaller in size and looked somewhat like an egg, hence the etymology of its name.
Many of you may refer to this fruit as aubergine and sometimes even use them interchangeably. Aubergine is the French word for eggplant.
What Does Eggplant Taste Like?
Texture: The outside of an eggplant is usually a gorgeous purple, with its common variety oval in shape and has a smooth satin-like skin. The inside of the eggplant is cream and a light brown colour with seeds and has a spongy texture.
After cooking and depending on how far the cooking process is taken, the flesh becomes very soft and melts in your mouth. The skin, however, can sometimes be hard to chew through and for some dishes you’d find that the flesh is scooped out and the skin is left behind.
Flavour: Eggplants are not usually eaten raw and is best eaten grilled, deep-fried, roasted or stewed. It is bitter in flavour and becomes much milder as you cook it. Some believe it has a bit of an acquired taste and not something enjoyed by all.
Cooked eggplant, however, is the perfect absorbent of sauces and juices due to its spongy flesh. For example, when cooked in curry, you’ll find the eggplant filled with the delicious sauces and becomes the perfect natural housing.
Different Types of Eggplant
There are many different varieties of eggplant that one may find around the world.
The most common variety is the black bell eggplants with the shiny, deep purple skin. The black bells are great for grilling over an open fire and also roasted as one would when making Japanese nasu dengaku (miso-glazed eggplant).
Some eggplants are long and skinny like the continental, small and green like the pea eggplant or small and oval with white streaks like the baby eggplant. There are other varieties too called long tom, Thai round or plain purple.
Which Eggplant is Less Bitter and Has the Least Seeds?
It is said that the male eggplants have fewer seeds compared to the female eggplant, which in turn means that it is less bitter.
To work out which is which, you have to look at the bottom of the fruit where you’ll find an indentation. Should it be deep and shaped like a dash, it’s female while if its smother and a bit shallow, its male.
How to Choose Eggplants?
To select the freshest eggplant, the first test would the weight. It should feel dense and heavy in the palm of your hands.
The next thing to look for is the colour of the skin. You want it to be vibrant and glossy. Should you see any discolouration or browning on the outside, it’s not the eggplant you want.
Check for bruising and see if the skin is starting to wrinkle. The skin should be taut and smooth to touch.
The cap and the stem of the eggplant should be bright green and fresh. Another telltale sign if it’s a good eggplant.
In terms of ripeness, press the eggplant gently with the side of your thumb, and should it bounce back easily, it’s perfect. Should it stay indented, it’s overripe.
What Goes Well with Eggplant?
Fruit and Vegetables
Artichoke, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, capsicum, celery, cherry, chilli, cucumber, endive, garlic, guava, honeydew, kale, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, mango, okra, orange, pear, peas, pumpkin, radish, rockmelon, spinach, strawberry, turnip, zucchini
Herbs, Nuts and Spices
Basil, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry leaves, macadamia, mint, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, pine nut, rosemary, sumac, thyme
Protein and Other
Bacon, chickpea, crab, curry, fish, goat cheese, gruyere, ham, lamb, miso, oyster, parmesan, pork, red wine, salami, sesame, shrimp, yoghurt
How to Use Eggplant in Salads?
The best way to use eggplant in salads is to grill or roast them.
The grilling process can occur on a grill pan on a cooktop, on the BBQ or placed on the open fire on the cooktop. The char from the grilling gives the eggplant a smoky flavour while being able to peel the skin away easily.
Roasting eggplant is easy. Just drizzle some olive oil and place in the oven for the required amount of time. You can cut them in half, score them and then baste them with all manner of sauces. The flavours would seep into the spongy flesh of the eggplant.
Salad Recipes with Eggplant
Perfect vegan side salad for Asian inspired meals. Simple yet full of flavour, caramelised eggplant with tofu and asparagus is magically tied together with a luxuriously creamy miso dressing.
As these glorious pops of baby eggplants are slowly roasting away in a sweet, yet tart homemade tamarind sauce, prepare the burgundy tipped red oak lettuce, crunchy pomegranate arils and sweet fresh raspberries. What a feast!
Deliciously sweet roasted baby peppers, caramelised eggplant and tangy lemon, mingled in with nutty tricolour quinoa and a zingy lemon garlic dressing. A colourful vegan quinoa recipe that would shine at any potluck meal.
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