The eggplant is a staple of the Mediterranean kitchen, but it is also becoming increasingly familiar to American diners. And that gives cooks an extremely versatile food with which to work.
Although usually considered a vegetable, the eggplant is actually a fruit. It is a member of the nightshade family, making it a relative of the potato and tomato. All these vegetables are considered nutritious sources of vitamins and cancer-fighting phytochemicals. One-fifth of an eggplant contains only 25 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein.
While eggplant, which originated in India, is available year round, its peak season is in August and September. And when it's really fresh, eggplant has a sweet, mild flavor. You can eat the skin of young, fresh eggplant, but older ones should be peeled. Since the flesh discolors rapidly, an eggplant should be cut just before using.
The many varieties of eggplant range from deep purple to white, from oblong to round and in lengths from 2 to 12 inches in length. The lighter the color, the milder the eggplant, with white being the mildest. The narrow Japanese or Asian eggplant is tender and sweet. The egg-shaped white eggplant has a tough skin and smooth flesh. Americans are most familiar with the large, purple eggplant.
Eggplant can be baked, broiled, or fried. In many recipes, eggplant fulfills the role of being a complementary ingredient that balances the surrounding flavors of the other more pronounced ingredients.