As a child I remember eggplants’ taste being much stronger, often unpleasantly irritating; I sometimes developed a rush in my mouth after eating fried eggplants –a summer dish my mother often served for lunch, topped with fresh tomato sauce. I loved it but then I suffered for the rest of the day. The eggplants we get today are less assertive, and I at least will not lament for the lost pungency of this wonderfully versatile summer vegetable.
We have never been successful growing eggplants in our garden, but five years ago we managed to harvest a few small white ones (read more about our Eggplant Paradox). But there are other, more amusing eggplant paradoxes; some years ago I came across this confusion between the word ‘aubergine’ (the British term for eggplant) and Aborigin (!) If the words interest you, you will love it.
If you would like to know more about this wonderful vegetable read the ‘eggplant’ Wikipedia entry which is particularly rich and interesting. There I read that the Italian word for eggplant ‘melanzana’ through folk-etymology was adapted to mela insana (mad apple); already by the thirteenth century this name had given rise to the notion that eggplants could cause insanity. Also in 19th-century Egypt, insanity was said to be “more common and more violent” when the eggplant is in season in the summer, wrote William Lane, a 19th c. orientalist.
“There are so many eggplants in the world that it’s impossible to keep up with them. In fact, scientists aren’t even sure of the exact number. From its ancestral home in Burma (Myanmar today), it migrated to become a staple in India, China, Southeast Asia, much of Africa and the Mediterranean. And as is so often the case after centuries of small-scale subsistence cultivation, there is a rainbow of poorly defined varieties, one shading into the other,” wrote Russ Parsons in LA Times in September 17, 2003. There is even tsakoniki, a beautiful Greek varietal and you can buy seeds and plant it; hopefully you are better at it than we are.
Any kind of eggplant is fine for most of the dishes I propose, and I strongly suggest you get the freshest you find in your farmer’s market. If in doubt, Molly Stevens explains beautifully their flavor variations.
Since we hardly manage to cultivate our own, I buy my eggplants from our neighbor, Maria Marouli whenever I need to make an eggplant dish, or when her display tempts me. Maria displays all kinds of delicious summer vegetables every morning and cars stop on their way to the beach.
“In an ideal world, you’d buy only enough eggplant to use that day, and you’d store it in a cool spot on the counter (eggplants hate to get colder than 45 degrees and most home refrigerators are 35 to 40 degrees),” continued Russ Parsons. His advice is “to store eggplants in the refrigerator crisper drawer in a plastic bag with a crumpled-up sheet of paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Kept this way, they’ll be of acceptable quality for as long as a week.”
Most people choose the largest eggplants they find, and when I stop by Maria’s stand in the afternoon, after most of her customers have taken their pick, only the smaller, dense ones remain; but those are exactly the eggplants I would have chosen, anyway. They have sweet white flesh and very few seeds. Of course, they may need a bit more time to cut and prepare…
from Joanne Weir’s Plates and Places.
See also some eggplant recipes that I find interesting: Jose Andres’ Escalivada, NYT Julia Moskin’s Spiced Seared Eggplant with Pearl Couscous, as well as my friend Semsa Denizsel’s Eggplant Patties with Chicken (in Turkish unfortunately, but you can get an idea using google-translate)