Deep blackish-purple is to food as yellow is to snow, in terms of consumption — fine for a T-shirt, but generally not a hue over which to salivate. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, when considering the potential taste and optimal nutrition provided by the versatile eggplant — a.k.a. the vegetarian steak.
A longtime paramour of marinara and mozzarella, eggplant is the perfect main ingredient, as centuries of Italians and their enduring, olive-oil slicked casserole dishes of Eggplant Parmesan can attest. A lack of understanding of basic preparation is the only excuse for neglecting to plate this heartiest of fruits.
Chef Devin Godbey, program coordinator for UC-Beckley’s Culinary Arts Program, has a few fail-proof preparation tips and two recipes to help readers get to know the eggplant — her garlic-studded spin on traditional Middle Eastern dip Baba Ghanoush and an original vegetarian sandwich, the Eggplant Bialy.
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- Eggplants belong to the same family as tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes — the nightshade family — possibly explaining their marinara love affair.
- Best recognized for their deep, glossy purple appearance, eggplants are in season August through October, but are typically available in the produce and organic sections at grocery stores and markets year-round. (There are also white varieties of eggplant.)
- The texture of a choice eggplant should be slightly spongy without soft spots, which can indicate decay. The outside should be shiny, without scars or blemishes, and the cap should still be green.
- For many recipes, like eggplant rollatini, eggplant must first be peeled, cubed or sliced and salted, allowed to sweat out some of its high water content to become more pliable, more palatable (raw eggplant is bitter) and more visually appealing (they will quickly oxidize and turn brown).
- Size does matter with eggplants. The larger they are, just as with varieties of other vegetables, the more bitter they tend to be.
- The most common methods of preparation for eggplant are baking, roasting, stewing and steaming.
- Considered by many nutritional experts to be a superfood, eggplants are full of fiber, vitamin B1 and phytonutrients (plant power) with antioxidant properties reported to fight free radicals, the compounds responsible for damage to the body’s cells. It is also naturally low in calories at about 35 calories per cup.