Don’t think you like eggplants? Think again! Here are 5 ways to eat eggplants — from sweet to savory, from breakfast to dinner, you’ll learn to appreciate the culinary value of these ancient Asian fruits.
Thousands of years ago in Asia (likely modern day India), farmers began to domesticate native varieties of a wild, thorny plant that bore small, 1-2″ edible fruits.
After many generations of intentional breeding in villages throughout the region, the plants were made thornless, the fruit larger, the skin colors more varied — from white to black/purple, to speckled.
Thus the modern eggplant Solanum melongena was born, having been made genetically distinct from its wild relative, Solanum incanum.
The value of the fruit was not in fresh eating, since it was bitter and unpalatable when eaten raw. Rather the dry, spongy texture of the fruit was ideal for absorbing sauces, oils, and other flavors when cooked.
Cooking also broke down the bitter-flavored compounds in the fruit, rendering them more mellow, with notes of savory umami and hints of sweet.
The first written record of eggplants used as a food crop was in the Chinese text, Qimin Yaoshu, a guide to food and farming that could also be considered the oldest “cookbook” in the world, since it was penned 1,500 years ago.
Why the name eggplants?
From Asia, eggplants soon spread to Africa, the Middle East, and later to Europe. Even though eggplants didn’t arrive in England until the 16th Century, that’s where their common modern name was coined.
Why are they called eggplants? After all, most of the modern varieties are giant, pear-shaped fruits with purple skin. However, at the time, many of the popular varieties were the size and shape of eggs with white skin (home gardeners and some farmers still grow egg-like varieties of eggplants today).
Cooking with eggplants: one tip
Now that you know a little more about where eggplants come from, you might have a little more appreciation for these ancient fruits. (Yes, botanically eggplants are a berry/fruit, not an actual vegetable.)
But you still might not have any idea what to do with eggplants in the kitchen.
You might be surprised to know that eggplants are an incredibly versatile ingredient that can be used in cakes, breads, sauces, stews, and soups, while being incorporated into virtually any regional cuisine imaginable — from Asian to African to Italian to fusion.
Before jumping into five ways to eat eggplants, one cooking tip: for many savory eggplant dishes (grilled eggplants, fried eggplant, eggplant parmesan, etc.) eggplants benefit from being sliced and salted BEFORE cooking, a process called “sweating.”
Let your slices of salted eggplant rest in a bowl for about 30-45 minutes, then rinse and blot the slices dry before cooking. This process not only draws water out of the fruit, it allows for more flavor to enter the eggplants when you cook them, while also ensuring that you don’t end up with soggy, mushy eggplants when you grill or bake them.
5 ways to eat eggplants, from savory to sweet
Whether you want sweet or savory, or an eggplant recipe right for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you can find ways to eat eggplants below that are sure to tantalize your taste buds.
- Low carb eggplant hash
- When to eat it: breakfast
- Description and recipe link: If you’re trying to cut down on carbs, but you love potato-egg hash for breakfast, try eggplant-egg hash instead! Here’s a great recipe.
- Vegan eggplant “bacon” strips
- When to eat it: any time you want to eat something that tastes like bacon, which is to say any time, day or night.
- Description and recipe link: Are you a vegan or vegetarian looking for something that offers the taste and texture of bacon? Enter eggplant bacon.
- Baba ganoush
- When to eat it: as a snack or as a side during lunch or dinner
- Description and recipe link: It would be an act of negligence to provide a list of top-5 ways to eat eggplants without including the classic Mediterranean eggplant dip, Baba ganoush — especially since this recipe is a great way to use a lot of eggplants, fast.
- When to eat it: lunch or dinner
- Description and recipe link: Transport yourself to Greece with this classic savory eggplant dish! Here’s a good moussaka recipe.
- Chocolate eggplant cake
- When to eat it: dessert
- Description and recipe link: Want to make the most deliciously rich and moist chocolate cake ever? You’ll be amazed at how good eggplants can be incorporated into dessert in this chocolate eggplant cake recipe.
Thanks to our friends at Tyrant Farms for providing the heirloom eggplant photos for this article.
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