A regular item inside the CSA box are eggplants. Eggplant, or aubergine as it is called in France, is a vegetable long prized for its beauty as well as its unique taste and texture.
Eggplants grow in a manner much like tomatoes, hanging from the vines of a plant that grows several feet in height.
One of the most popular varieties of eggplant in North America looks like a pear-shaped egg, a characteristic from which its name is derived. The skin is glossy and deep purple in color, while the flesh is cream colored and spongy in consistency. Contained within the flesh are seeds arranged in a conical pattern.In addition to this variety, eggplant is also available in other colors including lavender, jade green, orange, and yellow-white, as well as in sizes and shapes that range from that of a small tomato to a large zucchini.
While the different varieties do vary slightly in taste and texture, one can generally describe the eggplant as having a pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture.
Eggplants belong to the nightshade family of vegetables, which also includes tomatoes, peppers, both the eye-watering chilies and the sweeter bell peppers and white (but not sweet) potatoes. The list of edible nightshade plants also includes any spices made from peppers, like paprika, red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper (although black pepper is a different plant).
The list of edible nightshades is fairly short, but the list of poisonous ones is quite extensive. Most nightshades are toxic to humans, with the best-known being belladonna, or “deadly nightshade,” traditionally valued for its use as a poison. The association with such toxic family members makes some people very concerned about all nightshades. They worry that if deadly nightshade is such a terrifying poison, then even the apparently harmless tomato must be up to no good.
Fortunately there’s no evidence that nightshades are dangerous in any way for most healthy people. But they might be a bad idea for people whose guts and immune systems are already compromised, especially anyone with an autoimmune disease (especially rheumatoid arthritis or anything else that causes joint pain and inflammation), as well as some people who simply have a digestive sensitivity to them.
While the plant is alive, chemical compounds called alkaloids work as its home-grown “bug spray,” defending it from pests and molds that would otherwise kill it. In other words, they’re designed to be toxic. In the poisonous members of the nightshade family, these chemicals are so concentrated that they have deadly effects on humans, but in the edible nightshades, they’re present in much smaller amounts, and mostly in the leaves and stems (which we don’t eat anyway).
Since humans are so much bigger than bugs and mold, and since we’re not eating the most alkaloid-rich parts of the plant, most of us notice absolutely no effect from eating tiny amounts of this natural “bug spray.” Healthy guts can deal with these chemicals just fine.
Eggplant is a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B1, and copper. It is a good source of vitamin B6, potassium, folate and vitamin K. Eggplant also contains phytonutrients such as nasunin and chlorogenic acid.
If you aren’t sensitive to nightshade veggies, there’s absolutely no reason to rush out and eliminate all these foods from your diet “just in case.” In fact, the same chemical compounds (like Capsaicin and Alkaloids) that cause so many problems in nightshade-sensitive people, can bring benefits to people with healthy digestive systems.
In addition to featuring a host of vitamins and minerals, eggplant also contains important phytonutrients, many which have antioxidant activity
Capsaicin, for example, might be more familiar to most of us as an anti-inflammatory, one of the big health benefits of eating hot peppers. That’s because it really does work that way with healthy people. Alkaloids have even been studied as therapies for various diseases, precisely because of these benefits.
Research on eggplant has focused on an anthocyanin phytonutrient found in eggplant skin called nasunin. Nasunin is a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger that has been shown to protect cell membranes from damage
How to store
Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in their storage. Eggplants are sensitive to both heat and cold and should ideally be stored at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).
Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.
Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a paper bag and store in the refrigerator where it will keep for a few days. If you purchase eggplant that is wrapped in plastic film, remove it as soon as possible since it will inhibit the eggplant from breathing and degrade its freshness.
Tips for preparing eggplants
Most eggplants can be eaten either with or without their skin. However, the larger ones and those that are white in color generally have tough skins that may not be palatable. To remove skin, you can peel it before cutting or if you are baking it, you can scoop out the flesh once it is cooked.
To tenderize the flesh’s texture and reduce some of its naturally occurring bitter taste, you can sweat the eggplant by salting it. After cutting the eggplant into the desired size and shape, sprinkle it with salt and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes. This process will pull out some of its water content and make it less permeable to absorbing any oil used in cooking.
Rinsing the eggplant after “sweating” will remove most of the salt.
Eggplant can be baked, roasted in the oven, or steamed. If baking it whole, pierce the eggplant several times with a fork to make small holes for the steam to escape. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (about 177 degrees Celsius) for 15 to 25 minutes, depending upon size. You can test for its readiness by gently inserting a knife or fork to see if it passes through easily.
Eggplant is a vegetable that can also mimic the mouthfeel of meat in vegetarian dishes and is often used by vegetarian chefs to give a dish some ‘bite’.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
– For homemade babaganoush, purée roasted eggplant, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil. Use it as a dip for vegetables or as a sandwich filling.
– Grill slices of eggplant and use on a grilled veggies sandwich
– Stirfry cubed eggplant with garlic, chilli and soysauce for an Indonesian side dish
– Mix cubed baked eggplant with grilled peppers, lentils, onions and garlic and top with balsamic vinaigrette.
-Stuff miniature Japanese eggplants with a mixture of feta cheese, pine nuts and roasted peppers.
-Add eggplant to your next Indian curry stir-fry
MELANZANE ALLA VEGAN PARMIGIANA (serves 4-6 persons; vegan & gluten free)
- 3 big eggplants
- olive oil
- 5 handfuls of cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 leek
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 can of tomato sauce
- olive oil
- 3/4 cups of cashewnuts, unsalted and not roasted
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast (found in health stores) This is deactivated yeast in the form of flakes or powder with a lot of B-vitamins
- 3/4 tsp salt
- use normal parmesan cheese
Cut eggplant in slices, sprinkle with salt and put between paper towels for at least 1 hour. Use 2 to 3 teaspoons of olive oil for a batch of fried eggplants, and mash them a little with your fork to get better results. Don’t fry on maximum heat. Continue until all eggplants are fried.
In the meanwhile cut cherry tomatoes, garlic, basil, leek and chives. Start frying leek and garlic with one tablespoon of olive oil in a big pot. Add tomato sauce and salt and let cook on medium heat for about 1/2 hour.
For the cashew cheese mix everything in a foodprocessor. You can also use normal parmesan cheese if you want the dish vegetarian instead of vegan.
Make multiple layers of your three ingredients in a casserole dish and put in oven for 30 minutes on medium heat.
Serve with bread.