Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables. Well, it's actually a fruit — did you know that? It's cooked as a vegetable, like tomatoes. Another thing tomatoes and eggplant have in common: they are members of the nightshade family. They are so versatile; they can be pickled, fried, stewed, stir-fried, braised, baked, stuffed, roasted, and pureed. And they aren't all purple, either. There are lavender-colored, green, splotchy, and orange eggplants!
Eggplant are native to the Indian subcontinent and the Himalayan area, and they have been cultivated in Southeast Asia since prehistoric times. Arabs brought eggplant to the Mediterranean area in the early Middle Ages.
The reason this fruit is called an "eggplant" is because the cultivars in the 18th century were white to pale yellow in color, and resembled hen's eggs.
Eggplants are bitter when raw, but develop a savory and complex flavor when cooked. The texture of the flesh is meaty and it absorbs sauces and cooking liquids very easily. Eggplants are commonly found in:
• Ratatouille, the quintessential Provencal vegetable stew
• Pasta dishes, such as this rigatoni with eggplant recipe
• Spreads and dips such as eggplant caviar and baba ghanoush
• Stir-fry dishes like Chinese Five Spice Eggplant
• Eggplant Parmigiana (Food Network)
• Moussaka, a traditional Greek eggplant dish (Squidoo)
• Imam Bayildi, a Turkish stuffed eggplant dish common in mezes (Clifford Wright)
• Baingan Ka Bharta, an Indian roasted eggplant dish (About.com)
The eggplants I found and photographed are:
• Chinese eggplant are long and thin, and dark lavender in color. These are great in stir fries, braises, and pickles.
• Filipino eggplant are long and thin, and dark green in color with flushes of light purple. These are often braised, stewed, and fried. Commonly cooked in adobo dishes and roasted & mashed.
• Graffiti eggplant is similar to Italian eggplant in size and shape, with pretty lavender and white mottled skin. Cooked in stews, pastas, and baked dishes.
• Indian eggplant are small and can range from thumbnail to hen's egg-sized. Dark reddish-purple in color, these are pickled, cooked in curries, soups, and stews.
• Italian eggplant are hefty and fat, with black-purple skin. Used in ratatouille, Middle Eastern dishes, pastas, pizzas, stuffed eggplant dishes, and baked dishes.
• Japanese eggplant are short and thin, with dark purple skin and dark-colored stems. Often pickled, used in tempura, and braised.
• Thai eggplant are small, round, and greenish-white in color. Used in curries.
• White eggplant are a heirloom variety and are cooked the same way as Italian and graffiti eggplants.
What's your favorite sort of eggplant, and what's your favorite recipe for it?
• Look! Heirloom Eggplants
• Learning to Love Eggplant: How to Pick 'Em, Cook 'Em, and Eat 'Em
• Seasonal Spotlight: Eggplant
(Images: Kathryn Hill)