Wild eggplant is native to India. But in the 5th or 6th century BC, the Chinese cultivated the plant in their gardens, first for its ornamental qualities. Likewise, when the eggplant spread to the western world, it was considered dangerous and not initially grown for food.
I’m not sure how or when the eggplant beat its bum rap and crossed over to the edible side of plant products, but I’m glad it did. As a cook who is limited to preparing non-meat main courses (Peter is a vegetarian), I find the eggplant versatile and satisfying. Check out a few of its culinary uses worldwide.
Eggplant Parmigiana. A tomato sauce & cheese-topped Italian favorite. (My mom's is the best).
Moussaka. A heavy Greek dish of minced meat and fried eggplant slices topped with bechamel sauce.
Imam Bayildi. The spicy, oil-drenched Turkish dish that, folklore has it, caused an Imam to swoon.
Besides baking and stuffing eggplant, you can simply grill slices of it, or stir-fry it the Chinese way. You can also use eggplant in an Indian curry, or batter-dip and deep fry it for Japanese Tempura. The Spanish pickle tiny eggplants (they come in all sizes and colors), and the Italians, Greeks, and Arabs make its flesh into a dip.
Here’s a recipe my Dad created. I use it a lot because I'm all for recipes that yield the greatest amount of satisfaction with the least amount of work. Besides being tasty and easy, this recipe doesn't turn your eggplant into a fat-absorbing sponge. To make it more appealing to kids and picky meat eaters, you can toss a couple handfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese on top near the end of the baking time.
MELANZANA DI FIORE
(amount of ingredients depends on how many servings you want)
Eggplants, washed and cut in quarters lengthwise
Cloves of garlic, cleaned and sliced
Good olive oil
Fresh, sweet, ripe tomatoes, chopped (enough to cover top of eggplant)
Bunch of fresh parsley and basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
(Optional: chopped hot pepper; shredded mozzarella cheese.)
Preheat oven to 350F (180C) degrees. Slit eggplant quarters on either side of ridge. Stuff slits w/garlic. Place eggplants in olive-oiled pan. Season w/salt and pepper. Drizzle w/olive oil. Bake, covered, until eggplant is soft (at least 30 mins.). Remove pan from oven and top eggplant quarters w/the chopped tomato and herbs. Drizzle with a bit more oil. Return pan to oven, bake uncovered till everything is cooked (about 15 mins.) If you desire cheese, sprinkle tomato-topped eggplant w/the mozzerella and return to oven until cheese melts.
Good served with rice or pasta.
What's your favorite eggplant recipe?
photo by L. Trecroce