Originating from India, Eggplants are a tropical perennial cultivated in warm climates. Around 5 BC, Eggplants were first cultivated in China, but have since become popular throughout the world. Eggplants are also known by names such as ‘aubergine’, ‘garden egg’ or ‘guinea squash’.
There are a variety of Eggplants, however, generally they are slightly curved, and the skin is shiny and purple. Although, depending on variety the colours and sizes can vary. In Hong Kong, the Eggplant varieties normally have a tubular shape, and can grow to between 6-12 inches long. Furthermore, they may not be the traditionally expected colour of purple, but may vary from white, black or green. The inside of Eggplants are white, with a meaty texture.
Eggplants are a great addition to a diet. They are low in fat, making them perfect for those wanting to lose weight and stay healthy. Another of the health benefits gained from Eggplants is that they contain important antioxidants.
Although available throughout the year, Eggplants are best during the warmer season between August and September. To make sure that you cook with the best of the best Eggplants, choose slightly immature ones. They must have a smooth skin but have a firm and slightly springy texture. If you have these, then you’re onto a winner.
The preparation of Eggplants for cooking is key. Make sure to wash the surface of the skin properly first as to dispose of any dirt. The majority of Eggplants can be eaten with or without the skin, so peel as desired. Now the important part, before cooking, make sure to slice the Eggplant as the recipe requests, and sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander (make sure it is covered) for anywhere between 20-30 minutes. This is important because it will not only make the flesh tender, but it will reduce the naturally occurring bitter taste of the Eggplant. By salting it first, you basically sweat this out. This will also remove some of the water, making it less absorbent to any oils during cooking. Due to the slightly bitter taste that may still be evident within the Eggplants, it is suggest that cooking them alongside slightly acid vegetables such as tomatoes, complement it well. Afterwards, dry any of the excess water away using a dry kitchen towel or cloth.
There are a variety of recipes that Eggplants can be included in. they can be baked, roasted, sautéed or steamed. If baking in the oven whole, make sure to pierce holes in the surface of the skin to let the steam escape – similar to when baking potatoes. Normally, depending on size, they only require 15-30 minutes in the oven (also depending on the temperature the recipe states). Traditional Chinese cuisine braise, stew and stuff the Eggplants with a variety of foods. For example, you may braise the Eggplants within a delicious sauce, deep-fried in batter; or steam the Eggplants and mash with nut butter; or perhaps include them within your next stir-fry!