“How can people say they don’t eat eggplant when God loves the color and the French love the name? I don’t understand.”
-Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet)
“When I was alone, I lived on eggplant, the stove top cook’s strongest ally…”
‘Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant’
My best friend Tara is a stellar registered nurse (RN) and general doll of a person who nevertheless frustrates me to no end because she avoids eating vegetables at all costs. This is particularly intolerable to me for two reasons. First, as a registered dietitian (RD), I’m relatively bossy and love to stuff people with vegetables: hello, overwhelming health benefits! Secondly, I love my best friend to death, but would prefer to avoid that eventuality for at least a few more decades.
After all, this is the person who took the best friend vow of “beating anybody over the head with a shovel if they ever hurt you”…before nursing school, of course. I state for the record that I have no problem practicing culinary deception when it may benefit my best friend’s health. I had the need to do so recently and needed a solid game plan. Enter the unlikeliest of heroes: the eggplant.
One cup (99 g) of cubed eggplant (known as an aubergine to the British and French) provides a mere 20 calories. The eggplant is low in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and is a good source of potassium, manganese, dietary fiber, and vitamin C, though in relatively small quantities compared to other fruits and vegetables. Potassium is a mineral that regulates the heart and blood pressure. Manganese helps in bone-building, thyroid gland functioning, and assists performance of other vitamins. Dietary fiber is necessary for smooth and regular bowel movements, and keeping cholesterol and blood sugar at healthy levels. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that assists the body in tissue growth and maintenance.
Antioxidants in eggplant may help to reduce the risk of colon and liver cancers and help in stroke prevention. Due to genetic predisposition, the eggplant makes sense in my plot of the culinary deception of my best friend. Since the ability to cook blessed my highly talented Sicilian grandmother and similarly gifted mother but zipped right past me, I asked my mother to assist with the eggplant fake-out. Eggplants can be baked, fried, stewed or added to soups and casseroles, and this diversity would help in my trickery. Although Tara had been an honorary member of my family for decades, even she would not ultimately know what hit her in the taste buds.
By cultivation and use, the eggplant is a vegetable, though botanically is classified as a fruit. Eggplant is also an edible member or the nightshade (Solanaceae) family, related to tomatoes, chili and bell peppers, potatoes, and ground cherries, as well as some poisonous and addictive plants, including belladonna, tobacco, and black nightshade. Eggplant and other nightshade plants also contain nicotine, though to a much lesser extent than tobacco. Worried about developing a nicotine addiction from your eggplant ingestion? Don’t be! You’d need to consume 10 kg (22 lbs.) of eggplant to absorb the nicotine equivalent of one cigarette.
Recommendations from this Registered Dietitian (RD):
How low can you go? Eggplant is low in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and considering its dietary fiber and manganese, offers a healthy and tasty option for active weight loss, weight loss management, and heart-healthy dietary needs. Be careful not to negate these benefits by adding extra cheese, oils, and other calorie-laden ingredients to your eggplant dishes!
Practice meaty deception. The low calories and saturated fat in eggplant make them solid substitutes for meat in weight loss efforts (such as vegetarian lasagna). The bulk and texture of eggplant make using it as a meat substitute in vegetarian or vegan meals easy and almost imperceptible.
Throw some shade. As a member of the nightshade family, eggplant may trigger sensitivities or allergies in some individuals, such as symptoms of arthritis or oral allergy syndrome, which can potentially lead to anaphylaxis if left untreated. Though studies about nightshades and such conditions have been inconclusive thus far, contact a healthcare professional if you detect similar symptoms after ingesting nightshades.
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. The nicotine content (nicotinoid alkaloids) in the eggplant contributes to its bitterness, which prompts the wise suggestion to consumers to not eat the eggplant in raw form. To counter this, try degorging, the salting, rinsing, and draining of the eggplant to reduce bitterness. Salting your eggplant will also reduce the amount of oil absorbed from cooking.
You want multi-cultural versatility? Consider dishes one can make from eggplant: ratatouille (France), moussaka (Greece), baingan bharta (North India), baba ghanoush and hummus (Middle East), and caponata (Sicily), and you will see the reflection of global diversity.
Toss the cold shoulder. Because eggplants are extremely sensitive to cold, plant seedlings after the danger of frost has past (in temperate climates). The highest quality eggplants are harvested at 2/3 their full size; avoid eggplants with hard seeds, overly bitter flesh, and duller skin. Alternatively, purchase fresh eggplants all year in your local grocery stores.
So I admit it. In the end, I successfully deceived my best friend with a culinary masterpiece, created at the complicit hands of my own mother. I cannot disclose the name, description, or recipe of the meal served to Tara since it is a guarded family creation and most of us have just happily eaten it without question for decades. I can say it is largely an eggplant substitution dish, and I revealed the eggplant sham to Tara after she ate it. Tara’s text response to me: “OMG that eggplant ??? was insanely good!!! Would have licked the container if I could have. I am a convert. It was soooooo delicious.”
Vegetable mission accomplished.
I know the eggplant is technically a fruit, but it’s a start. The heroic eggplant may have bought us all some extra time with a very special person.
Maybe I can put my shovel down…for the moment.