(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.