Solanum melongena is the beloved and generally underestimated eggplant. Related to the potato, tomato, tobacco, and deadly nightshade, eggplants belong to the Solanacene family. Sometimes called “Aubergine” in Britain and Europe, eggplant is the only edible solanum that originated in the eastern hemisphere, according to SearchWarp. Medieval Europeans refused to eat tomatoes and eggplants, calling them “Mad Apple” because they believed they would cause insanity. According to the World Wide Gourmet, Thomas Jefferson brought the humble eggplant to the States. Times have changed and Eggplant Parmesan has become a favorite on many restaurant menus.
Several varieties come in purple, white, and striated colors along with round, elongated, and curved shapes. Dark purple, Black Beauty, can be found in the spring at home and garden stores. Easy to grow, this eggplant has a long, oval elongated shape if left to grow to full size. Most gourmands prefer to pick these eggplants while they are round and small. At this stage, this eggplant variety tastes less bitter when cooked. Sicilian eggplants typically have striated purple and white coloring. Sometimes referred to as Zebra or Graffiti, these varieties tend to be longer than wide. White eggplant also tends to have more length than width. Some chefs find the white eggplant skin less tough than its purple cousins. Eggplants originating from India tend to be rounder, medium purple, and less bitter than Black Beauty. Chinese and Japanese eggplant typically curve into elongated shapes. Their calyx, the stem and leaf arrangement, grows to be purple rather than the green of other eggplants.
Low in calories and high in fiber, eggplant nutrients include potassium, copper, folate, B vitamins, and more, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods website. And, the versatility of eggplant in cuisine takes a chef’s breath away. Melanzana can be baked, fried, or grilled. Marinated eggplant, grilled outdoors or on the George Foreman Champ, makes a delicious side dish. Breaded and fried, Eggplant Parmesan can be served as main entree with a side of pasta. Vegetarians love eggplant almost as much as tofu. Bland by nature, eggplant absorbs flavors quickly. Caponata, a Sicilian delicacy, invigorates the palate as well as conversations around the dinner table. New Italian Recipes offers directions and a shopping list needed to make this “bliss” at home. Served cold, Caponata integrates all the great Mediterranean flavors with eggplant. Ashbury’s Aubergines provides eggplant recipes from India and the world.
Easy to grow in a backyard garden and simple to prepare for delicious meals, the lowly eggplant serves as one hard-working vegetable. Maybe medieval Europeans were right in calling it a “Mad Apple”. One bite of Caponata or Eggplant Parmesan drives food lovers crazy.