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What does the rest of the world know about eggplant that we don't?

What does the rest of the world know about eggplant that we don't?

Eggplant is prized in the cuisines of many regions--both in its own right and for its mellow way of combining with other ingredients. But in most eggplant-growing countries, smaller and elongated varieties are more familiar than the large purple globe we know best. There's good news for eggplant fanciers in the West: you can buy more kinds in our markets now, and you can cook them with less fat. Here and on page 168, we tell how.

In general, the long Oriental kinds have smoother flesh, fewer and smaller seeds, and thinner skin. Under the skin, however, most varieties are pretty much alike--interchangeable in many recipes.

The small round Thai varieties are primitive forms. Eaten raw, as some are (see page 171), they have a crisp texture a little like green beans. But they can also be cooked like other eggplants. Exceptions are the tiny green bunch variety, which adds crunchy texture to certain Asian dishes, and the bitter orange one, which brings a special taste to sweet-sour dishes. Thai eggplants are sold mainly in Oriental markets.

In England, white and colored egg-shaped forms were once cultivated as ornamentals --hence the English term for the plant. "Easter Egg', sold today through seed catalogs, is edible, but it has tough skin and coarse, somewhat bitter flesh. But other egg-shaped varieties have creamy texture and fine flavor.

Eggplants are available every month of the year. The growing season in the West is from May through October, with heaviest volume in August and September. California supplies most of the crop, and much of it comes from relatively small farms. November through May, our markets sell Mexican eggplants.

When you shop, look for an eggplant that's firm and heavy for its size, with a bright green, fresh-looking calyx. Purple varieties should look clear, dark, and glossy. Avoid any that are scarred, shriveled, or soft. Dark brown spots on the surface indicate bruising and decay.

Eggplants are very sensitive to extremes of temperature. They keep best between 50| and 55|; at lower temperatures or in contact with ice, they spoil rapidly. They're sensitive to ethylene gas, so they shouldn't be stored near fruits such as apples, which give off ethylene as they ripen. At home, keep eggplants in the refrigerator, tightly enclosed in a plastic bag; plan to use them within a day or two.

How to cook eggplant

Most people we asked said they liked eggplant. But few said they cooked with it often: "It soaks up too much fat.'

Put eggplant into a pan of oil, and it will absorb it like a sponge. Then, during cooking, a point is reached when heat begins to collapse the eggplant's airy structure, and it gives out the oil--like a sponge that's being squeezed.

If you sprinkle eggplant with salt and let it drain before cooking, much less oil is retained. Our own tests showed that when a pound of unsalted eggplant was fried in oil, it absorbed up to 10 tablespoons of oil. But salted and drained, it absorbed only 4 tablespoons.

You can easily cook a pound of eggplant using no more than 2 tablespoons of oil if you follow a technique we call steam-frying. You start by browning the salted and drained vegetable in a lightly oiled frying pan over medium-high heat. Then cover the pan and add water, a bit at a time, as cooking continues--now steaming as well as frying. The eggplant continues to brown as it cooks tender.

You can use the cooked eggplant in a variety of tasty dishes. The six recipes given on pages 88 and 89 borrow from several of the world's cuisines.

Other easy, low-fat cooking methods are over-browning and barbecue-grilling eggplant slices or wedges, and roasting whole eggplant on the barbecue or in the oven. These methods are explained--with recipes to try--starting on page 168.

How to salt eggplant. Arrange cut pieces in a single layer on waxed paper. For each pound eggplant, sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt evenly over cut surfaces. Drain in a colander for 30 to 60 minutes. Rinse eggplant under a spray of cool water, drain on paper towels, and pat dry.

How to steam-fry. Remove stems from 1 to 1 1/4 pounds eggplant; peel, if desired. Cut in pieces as shown on page 8 (cut small round eggplant into halves or quarters). Add salt as directed, preceding.

Heat a 10- to 12-inch frying pan (with nonstick surface and lid) on medium-high heat until a few drops of water dance on the surface. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil or salad oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Add eggplant and distribute in a single layer in pan. Cook until lightly browned, 4 to 8 minutes; stir and turn as needed to brown evenly.

Add 2 tablespoons water; stir and turn eggplant, quickly cover pan, and don't reduce heat. Every 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, stir and turn eggplant, adding 2 tablespoons water each time, and replacing lid quickly. Cook until brown and very soft when pressed, 4 to 8 more minutes. If liquid remains, continue cooking, uncovered, until it evaporates.

Use the eggplant in any of these dishes.

Herb-seasoned Steam-fried Eggplant

Steam-fry 1 to 1 1/4 pounds eggplant as directed on page 87. With the first addition of water, add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dry basil leaves) and 1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (optional). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes 3 or 4 servings.

Eggplant Stew, Mediterranean-style

Try this stew for brunch--served hot and topped with a poached egg or crumbled cooked bacon. Or use it with pasta.

Steam-fry 1 to 1 1/4 pounds eggplant as directed on page 87. Remove from pan; set aside.

In the pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil or salad oil over medium heat. Add 1 medium-size onion, thinly sliced, and 2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed. Cook, stirring often, until onion is limp, about 5 minutes. Mix in 1 medium-size red or green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced; 3 medium-size firm-ripe tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and cut into wedges (or 1 can, 14-oz., pear-shaped tomatoes, broken up); 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dry basil or oregano leaves); and the cooked eggplant.

Bring to simmering; cover pan and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chopped parsley (optional). Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold. If made ahead, cover and chill overnight; the flavors mellow agreeably. Makes about 6 servings.

Eggplant Salad

Steam-fry 1 to 1 1/4 pounds eggplant as directed on page 87. Spoon into a bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons lemon juice; cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. If made ahead, cover and chill.

With eggplant, mix 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint or parsley; spoon mixture into one section of a shallow bowl. Arrange with eggplant about 1 cup diced firm-ripe tomato, 1/2 cup each diced cucumber and diced green or yellow bell pepper, and 2 green onions with part of the green tops (sliced). Mix together 2 tablespoons olive oil or salad oil, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, and 1 small clove garlic (pressed). Pour over salad; mix to serve. Serves 4 to 6.

Chinese Eggplant with Chicken or Pork

Steam-fry 1 to 1 1/4 pounds eggplant as directed on page 87, using salad oil. Remove from pan and set aside.

Cut 1/2 pound boned, skinned chicken breast or thigh (or pork tenderloin) into 1/4-inch-thick slices. In a bowl, combine the meat; 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger; 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed; and 1 or 2 small dried hot red chilies, seeded and minced. Set aside.

Stem and seed 2 red or green bell peppers; cut peppers into 1-inch pieces. Remove ends and string 1/2 cup (about 3 oz.) Chinese pea pods. Trim roots from 2 green onions; thinly slice onions and about 3 inches of green tops. Set vegetables aside separately.

In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon each sugar, cornstarch, and soy sauce; 1/2 cup regular-strength chicken broth or water; and 2 tablespoons Chinese bean sauce (or 1 tablespoon soy sauce). Set aside.

In the frying pan used for eggplant, or in a wok, heat 2 tablespoons salad oil over medium-high heat. Add meat mixture; stir-fry until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add peppers; stir-fry 2 minutes. Stir in eggplant, peas, and sauce. Cover pan and cook until peas are just tender when pierced, about 2 minutes. Top with green onions. Makes about 4 servings.

Eggplant Curry

Steam-fry 1 to 1 1/4 pounds eggplant as directed on page 87. Remove from pan and set aside.

In the pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter or margarine over medium heat. Add 1 large onion, chopped, and 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed; cook, stirring often, until onion is limp, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1/4 teaspoon crushed dried hot red chilies (optional), 4 medium-size firm-ripe tomatoes (cored, peeled, seeded, and cut into wedges), 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas, the eggplant, and 1/2 cup water. Cover pan and simmer for 10 minutes.

Top with chopped fresh cilantro (coriander), if desired. Serve with lime wedges or about 1 cup unflavored yogurt. Serves 6.

Puerto Rican, Rayada

Thai, round, paie green and white

Japanese, mature and immature sizes

Astan bitter orange

Italian, Rosa Bianco

Commercial varieties, globe-shaped

Italian, small globe-shaped

Green egg-shaped

White Egg

Easter Egg

Thai, green, bunch

Thai, round, green-streaked

Applegreen

Thai, round, purple

Thai, round,

white (turtle egg)

Eggplant Indonesian-style

In a 2 1/2- to 3-quart pan, heat 1 tablespoon salad oil over medium heat. Add 1 large onion, thinly sliced; cook, stirring often, until onion is limp and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add 1 large firm-ripe tomato, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped; cook, stirring often, until tomato falls apart. Add 1/2 cup water and 1 tablespoon each sugar and soy sauce. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Steam-fry 1 to 1 1/4 pounds eggplant as directed on page 87. Stir into sauce, cover, and simmer about 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6.

Photo: The 18 varieties at left are only a sampling of hundreds of eggplants grown around the world; map above shows areas where they're used the most. Look for less-common ones in Oriental and farmers' markets, or grow them from seed

Casper

French, Ronde de Valence

Chinese, white

Photo: For quick supper entree, stir precooked eggplant into chicken and vegetables fried Chinese-style; serve with rice

Photo: Baste eggplant as it grills--here we use Japanese variety, cut like fan. Directions and more recipes are on page 168

Photo: For a cool salad, lightly mix steam-fried eggplant--this is baby Japanese kind-- with crisp fresh vegetables and dressing
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Sep 1, 1986
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