Eggplants Inspire Creativity in the Kitchen

Eggplant photo by Jade, courtesy of morguefile.com

“Wow, look at this!” my older daughter exclaimed as she helped unpack the grocery bags. She was about 8 at the time.

“It’s an eggplant,” my then 11-year-old son replied nonchalantly.

My daughter gave my son the “don’t you think I know anything?” look.

“It’s a good one because it’s really shiny and dark purple. I bet it’s called an eggplant because it’s shaped like an egg!” she exclaimed.

I didn’t know that buying an eggplant would generate so much conversation and enthusiasm.

My husband joined the discussion and asked me, “So what’s special about an eggplant nutritionally?”

I think he was trying to inspire a column.

I must admit I hadn’t done my homework on eggplant. It caught my eye in the grocery store, and I was just planning to cook it for dinner.

“Well, I know it’s low in calories and has some fiber. Let me check to see what I can find out about it,” I replied.

In my follow-up research on the eggplant, I learned some interesting things. The eggplant has been around a long time. The eggplant was described in a fifth-century Chinese book. The first eggplants were the size of eggs, hence their name. They were used as decorations until they were later discovered to be edible.

According to some sources, eggplants once were thought to cause insanity. For that reason, the eggplant was nicknamed “the mad apple.”

Don’t let your children use this information as an excuse to avoid eating eggplant, by the way.

The eggplant also is known as egg fruit, guinea squash and aubergine. A member of the nightshade family, the eggplant is a botanical cousin of the tomato, potato and pepper. Purple eggplants are most common in the U.S., but other colors, including red, yellow, white and striped, are available in other parts of the world.

Eggplants vary in size and shape. While some are pear- or egg-shaped, some varieties are more cylindrical.

A serving (about 3 ounces or one-fifth of an average eggplant) has just 25 calories and 2 grams of fiber, and provides some vitamin C and iron. An eggplant absorbs oil very well, so your preparation method will greatly affect the amount of fat and calories.

When selecting an eggplant, look for shiny skin and no dark spots, which indicate decayed areas. Store it in the refrigerator and use it within a week. The peel can be eaten, but larger, more mature eggplants will have a tougher skin.

For longer storage, eggplant may be frozen. Wash, peel and slice the eggplant into 1/3-inch slices and “blanch” (boil) it for four minutes in a pot containing 1/2 cup lemon juice per gallon of boiling water. Pack it in zip-closure containers or in freezer containers, leaving about 1/2 inch of space at the top.

Eggplant can be roasted, grilled, fried, steamed, sautéed or cooked. Its spongelike texture and mild flavor absorb the flavor of the added ingredients, especially spices such as basil, garlic, oregano and thyme. Consider trying some Mediterranean recipes, such as ratatouille (a vegetable stew) or the Greek dip, baba ganoush.

To introduce my children to eggplant, I dipped slices in egg batter, rolled them in crushed, seasoned cracker crumbs with added Parmesan cheese and fried them in some oil on a griddle. I served it with warmed spaghetti sauce. They ate it and appeared to like it.

Be a little adventuresome. Try a new food now and then. Pair new foods with a familiar food and involve everyone in the preparation process. Here’s a recipe featuring eggplant.

Eggplant Side Dish

1 small eggplant, peeled and cubed (about a pound)
1 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. chopped green pepper
1/4 c. butter or margarine
1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
1 c. shredded, sharp processed American cheese
1 1/2 c. coarsely crushed corn chips

In a large skillet or saucepan, cook the eggplant, celery, onion and green pepper in butter or margarine until tender (about 15 minutes). Stir in the tomato sauce, cheese and a cup of the crushed corn chips. Place in 1 1/2–quart casserole. Cover and bake at 350 F until heated thoroughly (about 25 to 30 minutes). Before serving, arrange remaining half-cup of corn chips around the outer edge of the casserole.

Makes eight side-dish servings. A serving has 208 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrate, 13 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of fiber and 388 milligrams of sodium

 

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