Season for Eggplant August – October

Eggplant Described

Some eggplants are shaped like an egg (and are even white!) and most are at least vaguely reminiscent in shape to an egg – hence the name (called aubergine in France). This nightshade veggie fruit related to potatoes and tomatoes is actually botanically a berry and comes in a ton of varieties that most of us will never even encounter. The deep purple, large and pendulous Globe eggplants available at nearly all markets seem to have the monopoly over our usage, but the longer, thinner Japanese and Chinese eggplants are enjoying a little play too. Whatever the variety though, eggplant is characterized by a mildly pleasant, bitter taste and a spongy, even meaty, texture.

How to Buy and Store Eggplant

These beauties are highly perishable, so take the time to select those in their prime. How can you tell? Look for firm, heavy eggplants with taut, smooth and shiny skins and even, vivid coloring. When you press into a Globe, look for an indent that quickly evens out. Once the skin starts to wrinkle or have soft spots, the eggplant has crossed to the other side. Also, look for bright green, vibrant leaves on the cap (calyx). As alluring as they may be, you may want to pass on the really over-sized specimens, for they can be tough and bitter. 

An eggplant is sensitive to both cold and heat, and its taste and quality can suffer. Ideal to the eggplant is 50 degrees F and quick usage, but they can be stored unwashed and uncut in a plastic bag in your vegetable crisper for up to 3 days (not wrapped tightly in plastic though, as they will not be able to breathe).

How to Cook Eggplant

Most eggplants don’t need any peeling, just a quick rinse. Raw, eggplant is flavorless and bland, but upon cooking, it’s spongy texture absorbs all the flavors of its accompanying ingredients and has a melty, meaty texture to die for. Eggplants can be roasted, grilled, braised, stuffed, fried, boiled, steamed or sautéed. Forget grilled Portobello sandwiches, and give a grilled eggplant sandwich a go! Many people like to “sweat” their eggplants by salting them and letting them sit for a half hour to bring out the moisture. We think this is only necessary for those bitter guys that are a little past their prime, but it also has the added benefit of making the eggplant absorb less oil if you’re cooking with it. And you can rinse the salt off afterwards. 

Health Benefits of Eggplant

In addition to its plentiful vitamins and minerals – such as dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, copper and thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B6, folate, magnesium and niacin – eggplant has received some special attention for its phytonutrient content. In a study where laboratory animals with high cholesterol were given eggplant juice, their blood cholesterol, the cholesterol in their artery walls and the cholesterol in their aortas was significantly reduced and their blood flow was improved. Researches attributed these findings to the antioxidant nasunin – in conjunction with other phytonutrients – found in eggplant. 

Why Buy Natural and Organic Eggplant

Eggplant actually makes the Clean Fifteen from the Environmental Working Group, among the fruits and veggies most likely to have the least pesticide residues when grown conventionally. That said, we’re not talking zero. And when you purchase your eggplant organically, it’s not simply for your health, but to send the message that you don’t support farmers who contaminate our food and our earth. In fact, you actively support those engaged in sustainable practices. Purchasing eggplants from the farmers market will give you the added advantages of a wider selection (and organically so!), freshness and local quality. 

image: Muffet