Eggplant is a vegetable (well, technically a fruit, but usually treated as a vegetable in cooking) that is used in many different dishes around the world. However, in the United States it is often overlooked and thought to be too tough, mushy, or bitter.
However, eggplant is delicious when prepared correctly and it has many health benefits. Here are some tips, nutritional facts, and recipes to help you see just how tasty and healthy this purple beauty can be!
Choosing and Using Eggplant in Cooking
First, the number of eggplant varieties can be overwhelming. No matter which type of eggplant you choose -- globe, baby, elongated -- the key is to look for young, firm eggplants since maturity is what causes bitterness and toughness. In addition, the skin should be taut and free from soft spots.
Next, comes the question on if you should peel or not. The larger and older an eggplant, the more bitter and tougher the skin. Personally, for small varieties I leave the skin on, and for large globes, I will peel, but it is a matter of personal preference. Of course, the skin does contain fiber and nutrients, so using it makes your dish more healthy.
Many times the eggplant is roasted or grilled whole and the peel is discarded leaving the silky flesh behind. This is a good way to prepare larger, older varieties. Both the Rustic Eggplant dip and Baba Ghanouj uses this method.
Another way to counter the bitterness and draw out moisture (to reduce sogginess) is to salt the eggplant slices (think Eggplant Parmesan) or cubes (think Ratatouille) and let them sit for 30 or more minutes before cooking. Then rinse off excess salt and blot dry before using. This is usually not necessary for small varieties, but can be helpful when using large globe types.
Finally, when cooking eggplant in slices or cubes it is important to get a quick sear, so high heat cooking methods like stir-fry or grilling work best. The Thai Eggplant with Basil recipe uses the stir-fry method and comes together quickly.
Nutritional Benefits of Eggplant
As I mentioned above, eggplant is often considered a vegetable, but it is technically a fruit, as they grow from a flowering plant and contain seeds. In addition to bringing a unique texture and mild flavor to recipes, eggplant brings a host of potential health benefits.
It is low in calories, sodium, carbohydrates, and cholesterol, but rich in fiber. Eggplant is a good source of Vitamins C, K, B1, B3, B6 and folate along with a host of essential minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and potassium.
Eggplants are high in antioxidants especially anthocyanins, the pigment that gives them their bright blue/purple color. This pigment can protect against cellular damage. These antioxidants have been shown to improve heart function and reduce LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Their high fiber content can help lower blood sugar by slowing the rate of digestion and absorption of sugar in the body. In addition, the presence of polyphenols can reduce sugar absorption and increase insulin secretion which can also help lower blood sugar.
Since eggplant is high in fiber but low in calories it can help promote weight loss when used in place of higher-calorie ingredients.
In general, eggplant is a nutrient-rich, versatile ingredient that can be prepared and enjoyed in a variety of different ways. Below are a few recipes to get you started! Enjoy!