Eggplant - A popular vegetable

Eggplant - A popular Vegetable

(Solanum melongena) Originating in Asia, eggplant (known in Europe as aubergine) belongs to the nightshade family (along with tomatoes, chilies and potatoes). It comes in a number of shapes, sizes and colors with a surprising variation in flavor. Originating in India, its name derives from a variety common there which is the color, shape and size of hen eggs.

In Thailand, a popular variety called pea eggplant (Solanum torvum) grows as clusters of tiny green spheres which, in spite of being tough-skinned and somewhat bitter, are used whole in curries or eaten raw with nam prik. These are known in Thailand as makhua puang and in the Seychelles and West Indies as susumber or gully bean. A wild variety, S.trilobatum, grows in Thailand. It resembles the pea eggplant, has a bitter taste and similar sized fruit, varying from white streaked with green through to shades of red as it ripens. They are borne on a thorny, climbing herb upon individual stems (rather than in clusters like pea eggplant). This variety is eaten raw with nam prik kapi and is also considered valuable medicinally.

Garden eggplant (S.melongena) vary considerably in shape, size and color - from smallish spheres of white, pale green, white streaked with purple, mauve and shades of yellow to a rich, deep purple fruit which may weigh around 1 kg. The Thai name for these is mahjua khun. More common in Western countries is the long or teardrop shape, which may be sold as baby eggplant or allowed to grow into larger specimens. In Thailand these are known as makhua yao. Another variety (S.stramonifolium), called ma-uk in Thailand, is small, round, orange and hairy. Used to flavor nam prik, it must first be scraped to remove the fuzz. Any sour fruit may be substituted.

Eggplant is a popular vegetable in China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand. It is often pickled. Whatever variety of eggplants you buy, they should be firm and smooth. Look them over carefully for small worm holes, brown spots (these are hard to see on dark purple eggplants so be eagle-eyed), or signs of shriveling which indicate they are older than they should be and consequently may be bitter. Stems are usually present on eggplants and these are a good indication of freshness if they are green and not withered. Eggplants in good condition when purchased will keep for a few days in the vegetable bin of a refrigerator, but don't push your luck - use them fairly soon and they will be more enjoyable.

Always use a stainless steel knife for cutting eggplants or the surface will turn a most unappetizing shade of grey or black. Most recipes use the eggplants unpeeled, so simply wash and dry them, cut off the stem ends and then cut into the sizes and shapes called for in the recipe. It is not always necessary to salt and de-gorge eggplants, although most European recipes make this a preliminary step in preparation. If the eggplants are fresh and firm they are almost never salted and de-gorged for Asian food.

The exception is when they are intended for a pickle as the less liquid left in the vegetable, the better the keeping qualities of the pickle. Its roots are expectorant, diuretic and demulcent; the unripe fruit is tonic and expectorant; and the ripe fruit also is expectorant, demulcent and anti-diabetic.

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