Ingredient of the Week: Eggplant

What is it?

Dubbed "aubergine" by the French, the eggplant is part of the nightshades family and is a fruit related to the tomato and bell pepper. Native to India, it has since spread to many other world cuisines, including Chinese, Mediterranean, African, Italian and French.

There are different types of eggplant, but the one most commonly found in American grocery stores are dark purple in color, elongated egg-like in shape, and usually run about eight by three inches in size. Supposedly, eggplant is a good source of antioxidants and fiber, but it also has more nicotine than any other edible plant. Even these amounts, however, are minimal--it would take 20 pounds of eggplant to equal the nicotine of one cigarette (so don't bother).

How do I use it?

Eggplants are often stewed as in the ratatouille from France, breaded and baked like the Italian parmigiana, roasted and blended with other ingredients to make the Middle Eastern baba ghanoush, or stuffed, steamed or stir-fried, like in many Chinese dishes.

The eggplant is tender and fleshy when cooked, absorbs liquids well, and makes for a good meat substitute. It doesn't need to be skinned or seeded; just wash and slice, discarding the ends. Be careful with its spongy absorbency, though; it can quickly turn to a grease monster if over-fried. If you want to avoid the greasiness, apply salt to the eggplant slices and let sit for 30 minutes. This will make it "sweat," and it will absorb less oils later in the cooking process.

Called the king of vegetables in India, the eggplant is very versatile and allows for creativity and experimentation.

Where can I find it?

If you don't already have them growing in your vegetable garden, you can also find them in the produce section of virtually any grocery store. The eggplant season is from July to October, so you have a few more weeks to try your hand at the purple fruit.

Recipe: Lamb and Eggplant Moussaka From Epicurious, this is a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern casserole using eggplant. Don't know how to pronounce it? Read this EOW post to learn how to say "moussaka," along with other dishes, properly.

What do you do with your eggplant?

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