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Eggplant Health Benefits and Easy Recipes
Some Facts about Eggplants
Late summer is the season for eggplant (known as aubergine in Europe). These big egg-shaped, dark purple globes are generally thought of as vegetables, but are in reality seed-containing fruit.
Inside they have creamy spongy flesh, that does not have much taste, and sometimes tends to be bitter, but that is excellent at absorbing other flavours.
Although the large, dark varieties are the best known in Europe and the US, there are many other cultivars in Asia, including white or cream coloured, with smaller or narrower fruit.
The eggplant is native to the Indian subcontinent, and was cultivated in China and India since prehistoric times. It is thought that it was introduced to Europe by the Arabs, its Arabic name "badinjan" is thought to be the basis for the French word "aubergine", which was adopted by the British.
The eggplant is an important ingredient in Italian cuisine, in the Greek moussaka, the French ratatouille, and many other European dishes. It is also the basis of the Middle Eastern dip, baba ghanoush (also called muttabbal) and of my South Asian curries.
Since it belongs to the genus Solanum, eggplant, or Solanum melongena to give it its scientific name, is related to tomatoes, and also to the potato.
Eggplant Health Benefits
Like all fruit and vegetable, the eggplant is low in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals.
According to the USDA, a 1 cup (82g) serving of raw cubed eggplant has only 20 Calories and o.15 g of lipids. The vegetable has a lot of dietary fibre, a cup provides 10% of the recommended daily amount (RDA).
It is also an excellent source of microelements such as manganese, important for healthy bones, and for general metabolism, and molybdenum, which plays an essential role in utilising iron, and in the functioning of a number of enzymes.
Eggplant is also a good source of potassium and several vitalmins, including folate, vitamin C and several of the vitamins from the B complex.
A bizarre fact about aubergines is that they contain a lot of nicotine (0.01mg per 100g), for a vegetable that is. That amount is too little to have any effect on the body. You would need to consume 9 Kg of aubergine to ingest the nicotine contained in one cigarette.
Does Eggplant Have a Role in Lowering Cholesterol?
A study by A.R.F. Jorge et al, published in 1998 showed that feeding eggplant juice to rabbits that had experimentally elevated cholesterol levels, lowered their weight, and lowered the cholersterol levels in their plasma and the walls of their arteries, after four weeks.
However, a study on human subjects with high cholesterol levels, suggested that the effect of drinking an eggplant infusion was modest and did not last for a long time.
Do You Salt Eggplant Before You Cook It?
How to Cook Eggplant/Aubergine, to Salt or Not to Salt
The big controversy in cooking eggplants is whether to "sweat" out some of the liquid, using salt.
Eggplants are "sweated" by cutting them into slices or cubes, then liberally covering with salt and sometimes covering the vegetable with a weighted lid to squeeze out the liquid. After 30 minutes the salt is washed off, and the eggplant used in cooking.
There are two advantages to salting eggplant, one is that it reduces its bitterness. This was important in the past, however modern cultivars are not noticeably bitter to start with.
The second advantage is that salting causes the vegetable to absorb much less oil in the subsequent cooking. This is an important consideration if the eggplant will be fried, but less so if it will be roasted or baked.
Hence I still salt aubergines if I plan to fry them, but not if I will cook them in other methods.
An Easy Eggplant Moussaka Recipe
The Greek moussaka dish is one of my favourite ways of using up eggplant. Being a Greek dish, I expect authentically it is made with lamb, but I have always used beef.
I believe there are two schools of though in Greece about using potatoes as well as eggplant in the dish. I actually prefer the purer taste of moussaka without potatoes. However I often add potatoes to my moussaka, because it makes it into a complete one pot meal, which really simplifies the cooking process.
The other preference I have is to not use a bechamel sauce, but rather make a white "sauce" out of yoghurt, stabilised with eggs and some corn flour. It is easier to make, and is healthier.
- 1 lb Ground beef (or lamb)
- 3 Large Eggplant
- 2 Cans chopped tomatoes, or passata
- 4 Potatoes, optional
- 1 Onion, chopped
- 1 Pot Natural Yoghurt
- 2 Eggs
- 1 tablespoon cornflour
- oregano fresh or dried, chopped if fresh
- stick cinnamon
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 tablespoon olive oil
- Slice the eggplant, brush the slices with olive oil, season with salt and bake in a high oven for 30 minutes until browned.
- If using the potatoes, peel them, and parboil or steam for 10 minutes. Cool and cut into slices.
- Make the meat sauce. Heat the remaining olive oil. Fry the onion and garlic until soft. Then add the ground meat and fry over a high flame until browned. Add the cinnamon stick, season with salt and pepper and cover with the chopped tomatoes or passata, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add chopped oregano at the end of the cooking time.
- Once the eggplant slices have cooled slightly, use a third of them to cover the bottom of a casserole or a perspex dish. If you are using potatoes, use a third of them too. Season the layer, then cover with half of the meat sauce. Make a second layer of eggplant and potato slices, cover with the rest of the meat and finally finish with a third layer of vegetable slices.
- Mix the yoghurt with the cornflour and eggs to produce a smooth white sauce. Cover the moussaka.
- Bake in a 240oC oven for 30 minutes. Leave to stand and cool slightly for 10 minutes before serving it. This makes it much easier to cut.