- garden egg
- egg apple
- Guinea squash
Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family and is native to India. It is an annual plant growing 0.4-1.5 m tall, often spiny, with large, coarsely lobed leaves 10–20 cm long and 5–10 cm broad. The flowers are white to purple, with a five-lobed corolla and yellow stamens. The fruit is a fleshy berry, 3 cm diameter on wild plants (much larger in cultivated forms), containing numerous small, soft seeds. The early varieties were bitter, but cultivation and crossbreeding have greatly improved the flavor. Eggplant is related to potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers.
Eggplant isn't a particularly popular vegetable in the United States, but it's a favorite in many areas of the South. Thomas Jefferson, who experimented with many varieties of plants in his Virginia garden, is credited with introducing eggplant to North America.
Florida produces the bulk of the domestic harvest, and New Jersey is a major supplier during the summer months.
Production of Eggplant
An eggplant requires a long, warm growing season, so it is most plentiful in late summer to fall. Eggplant is excellent when stuffed with a variety of ingredients, sautéed, broiled, baked, grilled, or slowly cooked in meat, rice, or cheese dishes and stews. Eggplant can also be substituted for pasta in lasagna dishes. When selecting this fruit, choose those that have a shiny tight skin, making sure they are not dull colored or lightweight with rust spots. For the best flavor, refrigerate eggplant unwashed in a plastic bag for no more than a week. An eggplant may also be referred to as aubergine (French), berenjena, brinjal, Guinea squash, garden egg (bitter ball), melongene, melanzane, or zapallito (Spanish).
The dark purple eggplants are the most common type sold commercially in the United States. They weigh about 1 to 5 pounds each and come in two shapes: oval and elongated. The elongated variety is often referred to as the Japanese or oriental eggplant.
Specialty varieties include miniature eggplants that come in a variety of colors and shapes.
- Deep purple, round or oval eggplants are often nicknamed Italian or baby eggplants.
- Pale violet eggplant, usually slim and light, is nicknamed Chinese eggplant.
- Violet-white are Italian rosa biancos
- Japanese eggplants are younger versions of the large commercial purple type.
Eggplants are available all year. Their peak growing season in the United States is from July to October.
Look for a symmetrical eggplant with smooth, uniformly colored skin. Tan patches, scars, or bruises indicate decay. Also avoid eggplants with wrinkled or flabby-looking skin. Oversized purple eggplants, usually over 6 inches in diameter, may be tough and bitter.
When you press gently on an eggplant, the finger mark will disappear quickly if the eggplant is fresh. Eggplant should feel heavy; one that feels light for its size may not have a good flavor. The stem and cap should be bright green.
Both cold and warm temperatures can damage eggplant. It is best to store eggplant uncut and unwashed in a plastic bag in the cooler section of the refrigerator. Do not force the eggplant into the crisper if it is too big, as this will bruise the vegetable. Eggplant may be blanched or steamed then frozen for up to 6 months.
Wash the eggplant just before using it, and cut off the cap and stem. Use a stainless steel knife because carbon blades will discolor the eggplant. Eggplant should not be eaten raw. Eggplant may be cooked with or without its skin. However, large eggplant and most white varieties have thick, tough skin and should be peeled prior to cooking with a vegetable peeler.
Unlike many vegetables, eggplant is not harmed by long cooking. An undercooked eggplant can have a chewy texture; but overcooked eggplant is just very soft. Do not cook in an aluminum pot because the eggplant will become discolored.
Spices that enhance the flavor of eggplant include allspice, basil, bay leaves, garlic, chili powder, oregano, sage, thyme, marjoram, and parsley. Eggplant is most often paired with tomatoes or onions.
To bake a whole eggplant, pierce the skin with a fork several times, and cook it at 400 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Baking whole eggplants produces a soft flesh that is easy to mash or puree.
Cut the eggplant into thick lengthwise slices, and score them lightly with a sharp knife. Place the slices on a broiler pan or grill; brush them lightly with oil. Broil about 5 inches from the heat, and turn slices when they begin to brown. Eggplant should be cooked for approximately 5 minutes per side.
Eggplant may also be microwaved whole, cubed, or sliced. Cooking times vary from 6 to 8 minutes for a whole eggplant to 3 or 4 minutes for a pound of cubed eggplant.
Stewed eggplant is called ratatouille. For this dish, eggplant may be stewed alone, or with other vegetables. Simmer, covered with a liquid such as tomato juice, until the eggplant is tender. The cooking time is usually 20 to 25 minutes.
- Fruit & Vegetable of the Month: Tomato by the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, public domain government resource—original source of article