Many varieties of eggplants are cultivated
and cooked all over the world. In Europe, Asia or America, they feature
in a multitude of different dishes. Although eggplants are a member of
the nightshade family and thus related to potatoes, tomatoes and
peppers, they were not discovered in the New World.
The first mention of their cultivation is in
China in 5 BC, and they are thought to have been eaten in India long
before that. The Moors introduced the eggplants to Spain some 1,200
years ago and it was grown in Andalucia. It is likely that they also
introduced it to Italy, and possibly from there to other southern and
eastern parts of Europe.
In spite of their popularity in Europe,
eggplants did not become popular in Britain or the United States until
very recently; although previous generations of food writers knew about
them, they gave only the occasional recipe for cooking with them.
Meanwhile, in the southern and eastern parts of Europe, eggplants had
become extremely well liked, and today they are one of the most popular
vegetables in the Mediterranean. Indeed, Italy, Greece and Turkey claim
to have 100 ways of cooking them. In the Middle East, eggplants are also
a central part of their cuisine.
Varieties : There are many different varieties
of eggplants, differing in color, size and shape according to their
country of origin. Small ivory-white and plump eggplants look like large
eggs (hence their name in the States: Eggplant). Pretty striped
eggplants may be either purple or pink and flecked with white irregular
stripes. The Japanese or Asian eggplant is straight and very narrow,
ranging in color from a pretty variegated purple and white to a solid
purple. It has a tender, slightly sweet flesh. Most eggplants, however,
are either glossy purple or almost black and can be long and slim or fat
like zeppelins. All eggplants have a similar flavor and texture; they
taste bland yet slightly smoky when cooked, and the flesh is spongy to
touch when raw, but soft after cooking.
Buying and Storing : Eggplants should
feel heavy and firm to the touch, with glossy, unblemished skins. They
will keep well in the salad drawer of the fridge for up to two weeks.
Preparing : When frying eggplants for
any dish where they need slicing, it is a good idea to salt the slices
first in order to draw out some of their moisture, otherwise, they
absorb enormous quantities of oil during cooking.