The eggplant, otherwise known as aubergine, is a fruit characterized by its shape and color. It ranges in color from creamy white to deep purple to black. Asian eggplants are round or long and thin. They are softer than Western eggplant and the flesh is tender and slightly sweet. It is commonly used in stir fries. Western eggplant has a plump pear shape. Eggplants are a member of the nightshade family. Plants in the nightshade family are entirely poisonous except for the fruit, and only the fruit.
Eggplants have been cultivated in China since approximately 500 B.C. The Arabs and Persians brought the eggplant to Africa. In the Middle Ages, eggplant was a common food. Today, it is cultivated mainly in China, Turkey, Japan, Egypt, and Italy.
Eggplants have dense, khaki colored flesh, with spongy, small edible brown seeds. The flavor is bland, but distinct, and usually absorbs other flavors. The plant grows to approximately 3 feet high, and produces purple-blue flowers.
The fruit ranges in length from 2 to 12 inches, and bruises easily. The skin of the eggplant is edible, though some people prefer it to come off. Sometimes the flesh has a very bitter flavor. Sliced eggplant ma be salted and left to drain for 30 minutes to remove the moisture and the bitterness. The flesh may also discolor when oxidizing.
Eggplant is common today in Mediterranean and East Indian cuisines. It has an affinity for garlic, anchovies, olives, roasted peppers, basil, tomatoes, chili peppers, and lamb. A common dish made with eggplant is ratatouille. When purchasing an eggplant, the skin should be blemished, and un- wrinkled. Eggplant is available all year round, with the peak season during the late summer.