Latin name: Solanum melongena
Other names: aubergine, brinjal
If there's a more Seussian vegetable than the eggplant, we’ve yet to see it. These nightshade family members (botanically a berry) can be white with or without pink or green stripes, bright fuchsia, yellow, or completely black; they can the size and shape of an egg, built like a squat pumpkin, or as long and slender as a certain anatomically suggestive emoji.
Why is eggplant healthy?
Eggplant’s rich phytonutrient composition — particularly the flavonoid nasunin — contributes to its skin’s gorgeous purple color. Low in carbs and calories but rich in fiber, B vitamins, vitamin K and folate, eggplant may help reduce inflammation, protect against cancer, and improve brain health, blood flow, and synaptic signaling.
What does eggplant taste like?
Eggplant has a mildly vegetal aroma, but doesn’t have much flavor of its own, other than the slightly astringent bitterness common to other solanums. To tone down any bitterness, salt it after cutting and then squeeze out the bitter nightshade-juice before cooking, but this isn’t usually necessary when using slender Asian varieties.
Where does eggplant grow?
Eggplant grows throughout the Asian and African continents, as well as the Mediterranean and Middle East. The plant originated in India, which still grows the greatest variety of cultivars, including one genetically modified variety (Bt brinjal) that’s been bred to resist infestation from caterpillars that feed on it.
How do I prepare eggplant and what do I pair it with?
Eggplant’s true strength is its texture — it’s firm when raw, but when simmered or braised in a sauce or stew, it goes meltingly silky. Its best-known applications — eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, moussaka, and baba ganouj — all take advantage of this fact. But eggplant’s spongy-when-raw consistency also means that like tofu, it’ll slurp up any flavor within a ten-block radius of it. Use this to your advantage and don’t be afraid to hit it with aggressive flavors — eggplant adores a curry and being paired with Thai basil, it loves a North African tagine, or being nestled in a pot with Scotch bonnet peppers and smoked fish for Nigerian garden egg stew.
You can use eggplant as a convincing substitute for eel in a vegan unagi or glaze it with miso and roast it for a satisfying Japanese side dish. If you want to forever convert an eggplant hater, roast slender Chinese types whole over live coals until they split, then simmer them in a sticky-sweet garlicky soy sauce and finish with chopped coriander.
Oily eggplant salads and spreads are also staples of the Balkans and Central Asia; along with red peppers and tomato, it’s a crucial component of the condiment ajvar (typically served with fluffy bread and grilled meats), similar to the Russian summer dish called “eggplant caviar.”
Turks are said to have more than 100 ways to eat eggplant, and this makes perfect sense when you consider that eggplant was one of the favorite vegetables of the Ottoman sultans. Eggplant is still standard fare everywhere the Ottomans historically ruled.