September is my favorite month! It is a transitional month, meaning we are slowly going from hot, dry summer days to cool and wet fall. It also means we can eat ice-cream and hot stews and both are perfectly acceptable! 😉 I particularly like September for the food abundance it offers! So many fruits and veggies are at their best during this month; it is a perfect excuse to load up on all the fresh and juicy gems nature has provided us with. I love to go back to Bulgaria in the beginning of September for my summer holidays. The weather is still warm and there’s plenty of sunshine, but it is not as hot and dry as in august. Plus, this means I get to extend the summer for me, as here in Luxembourg the end of August and September are not always so predictably warm and sunny :). This is the season where I eat an abundance of fruits, such as melons, watermelons, figs, grapes, peaches and pears. The vegetables are also at their best, and I make many tomato salads and roast peppers, eggplants (or aubergine) and zucchinis. My parents have this special tool, called чушкопек (pepper roaster) here’s what it looks like and I laugh every time we use it, because my dad pronounces the word [chushkopek] in such a funny way! It is a genius of a tool! It roasts peppers, eggplants and corn so easily, and quickly and makes no mess. I have one at home in Luxembourg, of course! 😉
There are many ways to cook an eggplant, but one of my favorite is by far a roasted eggplant made into a dip (think of a baba ghanoush variation). I will share more ways to cook an eggplant at the end of this article, so keep reading.
Now let’s start with learning more about the eggplant.
Eggplants are native to the Indian subcontinent, where they are often called “the king of vegetables”. They have a unique look, with a smooth and glossy dark purple skin and shape, that resembles a teardrop. Eggplants come in many varieties, ranging from small to big, and some even have a white skin. Inside the eggplant has a consistency similar to a tomato, though when cooked it becomes soft and mushy. Eggplants belong to the nightshade family of vegetables, which also includes tomatos, peppers, and potatos. They grow in vines, like tomatos. This vegetable is available throughout the year but is at its best from August through October, when it’s in season. It is a great vegetable to add to many dishes, such as stews, sauces, dips and soups, and it is a great choice to boost your nutrition and live a healthy and happy life.
Featuring a host of vitamins (vitamins C, L, B6, thiamin, niacin, folic acid) and minerals (magnesium, phosphorus, copper, potassium), eggplants also contain important phytonutrients, which may have antioxidant activity*. Nasunin, a phytonutrient found in the skin of the eggplant acts as a potential free radical scavenger that has been shown to protect cell membranes from damage, and particularly the lipids in brain cell membranes. Protecting the brain cells this way helps to improve the functioning of the brain.
Like many vegetables, eggplant is a great source of dietary fiber, an important element in a balanced diet that is essential for gastrointestinal (GI) health, as well as for regular movement of the bowels. Fiber also helps eliminate some of the “bad” cholesterol that can clog arteries and veins, thus it plays a role in heart health.
Some people avoid eggplant, as it belongs to the nightshade group of vegetables, which can have a pro-inflammatory effect. If you don’t suffer from arthritis or any other inflammatory disease, I don’t see why you should deprive yourself from these delicious vegetables.
How to select and store
When choosing eggplants go for ones that are firm and feel heavy. Don’t go for too large of an eggplant, smaller ones tend to be less bitter and have less seeds. The skin should be smooth and shiny, with a vivid color. Avoid ones that have a discoloration, scars and bruises, as this might mean the flesh beneath has been damaged. To test whether the eggplant is ripe, gently press the skin with your thumb. If it’s ripe the skin will spring back, and if it’s not an indentation will remain.
Eggplants go bad quickly so use soon after you purchase them. Store them unwashed in the veggie section of your fridge, as they are heat sensitive. Do not store cut eggplants, as they go bad quickly once their flesh is exposed.
Wash the eggplant and cut both ends of the eggplant. You can peel off the skin if you don’t like it. I leave it intact and scoop it out once it’s cooked. If you want to reduce the bitter flavor of the eggplant, salt the flesh and let it “sweat” for a few minutes, as the salt will pull out some of the water from the eggplant. Rinse it before you cook it.
As mentioned earlier, I like to roast or bake the eggplant. And using my pepper roaster, I just make a few wholes with a fork and roast it whole without any oil. Then I love to make a dip with it. In Bulgaria there is a famous dip, called Kyopolou, made with roasted eggplant, peppers, olive oil and garlic, and I absolutely love it! You can also make little eggplant boats, stuffed eggplants, or even marinated eggplant cubes. There are so many different ways to enjoy this versatile vegetable, so I invite you to experiment with it.