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Let eggplant shine!

Hungry for something thick and meaty, but without all the fat and calories? Try eggplant! Popular in Mediterranean regions and also in Asia, eggplant adapts to a variety of cuisines because it absorbs whatever flavors are added. Eggplant is delicious cold or hot and can be enjoyed marinated, stuffed, roasted, grilled, or on brochettes. It is a natural in pasta, stir-fry dishes, soups, casseroles, ratatouille and even on sandwiches.

The most common eggplant in American grocery stores is large and oval with a purplish black skin. Italian eggplants are the same color, but are rounder in shape. Oriental eggplants are long and thin and are light purple or white and purple.

Choosing and Storing Eggplants
Young, fresh eggplants are usually less bitter than older eggplants. Younger ones tend to have a shiny, smooth skin and a green stem and cap. They are also smaller, not overly large. Once purchased, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to four days.

A half-cup serving of cooked, cubed eggplant offers 1.2 grams of fiber for only 13 calories. It also contains two important disease-fighting substances, terpenes and flavonoids, found in the eggplant’s skin. Terpenes help lower cholesterol and may help prevent certain cancers. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that may help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. You must eat the skin in order to gain the benefits.

Preparation Tips
Slice or dice the eggplant into the size you want for cooking, then sprinkle with about half a teaspoon of salt for a standard purple eggplant. Let the pieces drain in a colander for 30 to 60 minutes, then rinse well. Press out the excess liquid and dry with a clean kitchen towel. Careful rinsing gets rid of the salt and will not increase the sodium content. Very fresh eggplants do not need salting to prevent bitterness.

Tips for Cooking
• Cut the eggplant as close to cooking time as possible to avoid browning.
• Leave the skin on for color, shape retention and nutritional benefits.
• Saute eggplant in a small amount of very hot oil in a nonstick pan. This will ensure it doesn’t absorb too much oil when cooking. You can also spray slices with olive oil cooking spray and roast, grill or broil them.
• To make eggplant steaks, dip eggplant slices first into beaten egg white and then breadcrumbs. Bake at 400 degrees, turning once, until brown.
• Add chopped eggplant to pasta, stir-fry dishes, stews, soups and casseroles to give them body and a meaty texture.

Eggplant Riddles & Fun Facts
• When is an apple not an apple? When it’s an eggplant! A few hundred years ago, eggplants were called ‘mad apples’ because people believed that you would go crazy if you ate them.
• When is a berry still a berry, but you’d never believe it? When it’s an eggplant! Botanically, an eggplant is a berry.

Italian Vegetable Bake
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1 cup diced onion
1 small eggplant, diced with skin
15 oz can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1 pound frozen green beans
1 Tbsp dried or fresh chopped basil
1 tsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until golden brown, about 3 minutes.
2. Add the eggplant, tomatoes, green beans and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then pour into a medium-sized baking pan. Top with parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until bubbly. Serve as a side dish or over brown rice or whole grain pasta.
Serves 4. Each serving: 92 calories, 1.5 g fat, .5 g saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 17 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 4 g protein.

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