A member of the nightshade family (which includes tomatoes, peppers and potatoes), the eggplant started as a spiny orange berry with a bitter flavor, but was bred over time into the glossy purple fruit we know today. Known in Europe as aubergine, the term “eggplant” came into use in 1763, as the white varietals bore a strong resemblance to hen’s eggs.
The eggplant is believed to have originated somewhere in southern Asia or perhaps in Africa. It has been cultivated in India and China for more than 1500 years. Along with its culinary uses, the black dye from eggplant skin was used to make a black dye that fashionable Chinese ladies used to stain their teeth. Middle Eastern traders brought the eggplant to Turkey, and later to Africa and Europe, where it was initially believed (along with tomatoes) to cause madness. Spanish invaders brought the eggplant to the New World. By the early 1800s, both white and purple varieties of eggplant were commonly grown in American gardens.
Eggplants include a surprising range of nutrients, including vitamins B6, C, and K, vitamin B6, as well as magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, folic acid, potassium, and more.
Wrap the whole eggplant in a dampened paper towel and store in an unsealed container in refrigerator crisper for up to 7 days.
The subtle flavor of eggplant pairs well with spicy, sour, smoky and rich flavors from a wide range of cultural cuisines. Eggplant serves as the foundation of many hearty Mediterranean dishes, among them Greek moussaka, French ratatouille, Lebanese baba ghanouj, and Italian eggplant parmigiana. Chunks of eggplant can be added to pasta sauce as well as curries, stir-fry, and soups. Eggplant is also excellent when simply peeled, brushed with olive oil, and baked, roasted, grilled, or even smoked.
Slice one large Italian eggplant lengthwise into 4 thick slices (or halve 2 to 3 Asian eggplants), brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over an open flame until meat is lightly charred and skin is crispy. Cut diagonally into smaller slices and arrange on plates. Drizzle with hot sauce and top with runny fried eggs. Top with more hot sauce and chopped cilantro and dill.
Crowding eggplant slices together while cooking will cause eggplant to steam, rather than brown. To achieve crispy edges and tender insides, space slices apart while cooking.