Eggplant

Solanum melongena

USDA Nutritional Info

Eggplant (a.k.a. aubergine) is a member of the nightshade family, like tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers, but unlike those plants it is native to southern and eastern Asia. It is a very tender perennial that prefers temperatures above 50°F, and thus is grown as an annual in much of the world. The fruits are harvested while immature; while we think of the fruits as being deep purple or occasionally white, lavender, or green, they are all yellow when fully ripe. The dense flesh of eggplant makes it a very satisfying ingredient to include in dishes without meat.

Storage: Eggplants HATE COLD, which applies to the fruit even after harvest. Thus, while if it’s hot they should be stored in the refrigerator (in a plastic bag), they are best used as quickly as possible. Actually, if you have a space that is fairly cool but not cold (say, around 50°), that would be the truly ideal place to store your eggplant. Wrap it in a damp paper towel for humidity. But even then, don’t expect to keep them more than a week without a significant decline in flavor and quality.

Prep: Wash your eggplant if you’re not going to peel it (peeling it is your call, depending on your recipe, how tender the skin is, and if you’re going to cook it long enough to get the skin as soft as the flesh). Cut the calyx (the eggplant’s hat) and stem off and discard. Peel if desired.

Eggplant soaks up tons of oil if it is cooked fresh. The way to avoid this is to salt your eggplant before you use it. Cut it into the pieces you need for the dish you’re going to make, then sprinkle them with salt and place them in a colander for at least half an hour. Gently squeeze out the moisture and then pat dry with a towel.

Preserving: To dry eggplant, trim and, if you like, peel it, then slice or cube it (here’s where you have to think about what recipes you’re likely to use it for). Whatever shape you choose to cut it into, just try to get your pieces fairly even. Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes, then immediately plunge into ice water bath (this is called “shocking”). Drain in a colander. Spread evenly on a screen and dry until the pieces are completely hard. Store in a sealed container such as a glass jar, in a dark, cool place (like a cupboard). To reconstitute, cover with boiling water and let sit at least half an hour.

To freeze eggplant, prepare as for drying. After draining blanched and  shocked eggplant, pack it into containers (think about usable portions; don’t freeze a gallon of eggplant in one gallon-sized container unless you separate layers with plastic wrap or waxed paper). Remove as much air as possible, or if using a rigid container, cover top of eggplant tightly with greased waxed paper or plastic wrap before placing lid on container. Freeze immediately.

You can purée eggplant (slash the skin and bake at 425°F until soft, then cut open and scoop insides into a blender or food processor). Then freeze it in that form, as puréed eggplant is the basis of many delectable spreads and dips.

Recipes:

Don’t forget to adjust the seasoning if you salted your eggplant before cooking!

Tumbet – Majorcan Baked Vegetables

  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 pound new potatoes, sliced
  • 2 large green bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch strips
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Makes 6 servings.

Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt and blot with paper towels to remove excess liquid.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the potato slices and cook for 5 minutes, turning frequently, until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add the peppers to the oil and cook for 2 minutes, until just softened. Remove with a slotted spoon and blot on paper towels. Rinse and drain the eggplant and cook in batches in the oil approximately 2 minutes or until golden on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Preheat the oven to 375. Coat a large baking dish with nonstick vegetable cooking spray and set aside. Add the garlic to the skillet, cook 1 minute, then add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes to thicken. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Arrange the cooked vegetables in the prepared baking dish in layers, seasoning each layer. Pour the tomato sauce over the top, cover, and bake for 30 minutes until vegetables are tender. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Baba Ghanoush

From Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Makes about 1 1/2 c.

  • about 1 1/4# eggplant
  • 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 c. tahini
  • juice of 1 large lemon
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 425°F. Slash eggplant skin in several places and bake on a cookie sheet until the skin hardens and starts to char in places (this will give a smoky flavor). Let cool 15 minutes are so, then peel and purée in a blender or food processor with garlic and tahini. Season with lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve in a bowl with olive oil drizzled over and parsley sprinkled on top.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica: http://www.britannica.com/; How to Dry an Eggplant: http://butterflywings.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-Dry-Eggplant-An-Illustrated-Guide; Mike and Nancy Bubel: Root Cellaring; Deborah Madison: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone; Marian Morash: The Victory Garden Cookbook;  University of Illinois Extension: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/eggplant.cfm

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