Sometimes a food becomes so associated with a particular cuisine that it develops an identity problem. While it’s true that some fruits and vegetables are mainstays of certain cultures, many foods call multiple places home and are used prominently in dishes that span the breadth of our globe. Eggplant has a strong connection to the sustenance of Italy and has been a celebrated part of its cuisine an a subject of myths for hundreds of years.
A starting point in dispelling the myths about eggplant is that it is not native to Italy or the Mediterranean, but to India. It has also been part of the African diet for hundreds of years. One relative of the eggplant we commonly know is a variety grown there called Garden Eggs. This type of eggplant produces small white fruit that looks very much like eggs, hence the name that has been adopted by all varieties, from globe to Japanese. A further surprise to some may be the fact that today, the leading producer and consumer of eggplant is China.
Still another misconception about this wonderful vegetable, is that it is really a fruit, (like many vegetables) that is a member of the nightshade family. Foods from this plant family contain a group of substances called alkaloids. Alkaloids have been known to have adverse effects on the digestive tract. But alkaloid content in nightshade plants, which includes potatoes and tomatoes, and sweet and hot peppers, is extremely low. It probably contributed, though, to concerns long ago about whether the eggplant should be eaten at all.
The eggplant has the same health benefits found in all nightshade plants, which are antioxidant compounds. Studies now suggest that these compounds might aid in reducing blood cholesterol. Eggplant is also low in calories, and is an excellent source of potassium and fiber.
When we think of eggplant, we may think of it breaded, fried, and topped with Parmesan cheese and tomato sauce. But eggplant is not a one-dish wonder, it has a repertoire that highlights a myriad of flavors and preparations.
In the end, eggplant is a delicious food that when properly cooked has a mild flavor and creamy texture, with noted nutritional perks. Eggplant is so wonderful that it can easily be the star of a dish. While you may occasionally get a bitter eggplant, smart shopping and the right cooking techniques will guard against.
Choose small and firm fruit when buying eggplant which should insure against bitterness. Many varieties have an inherent mild sweetness to them, such as the Japanese and the white Rosa Bianca.
Another method to combat any bitterness in eggplant is to salt it 30-minutes before cooking to extract any liquid and then rinsing off the excess salt. If you’re using eggplant in a baked recipe, you may not need to salt or rinse it as any excess liquid will evaporate in the oven. This recipe for Eggplant French Fries puts a unique twist on this delicious vegetable and makes a healthier substitute for traditional French fries.
EGGPLANT FRENCH FRIES
2 medium to large eggplants, peeled
1 tablespoon salt (for salting eggplant to extract liquids), plus ½ teaspoon salt for seasoning
1 cup milk
1 ½ teaspoons ground black pepper
1 cup flour
3 teaspoons Ranch Salad Dressing & Seasoning Mix
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup canola or vegetable oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded, optional
Slice the eggplant into ¾-inch sticks, about 4 inches long. Use 1 tablespoon of the salt on both sides of the eggplant sticks and place it on paper towels to drain for 30-minutes. Rinse and pat dry.
In a medium bowl, mix milk, eggs, 1/8 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper until well blended. Combine flour and the dressing mix in a wide, shallow bowl. In another wide, shallow bowl, combine the Panko bread crumbs, 1/8 teaspoon salt, the remaining 1 teaspoon pepper and the ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper.
Heat oil in frying pan on high heat. Dip eggplant sticks into egg mixture and then flour mix, then in the Panko bread crumb. Place in oil, flipping regularly, and fry 3 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of the salt and the Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve immediately.