Crop Spot: Eggplant

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Eggplant is most commonly celebrated as a staple of Mediterranean cuisine. However, did you know that it is thought to have been domesticated in Southeast Asia as early as 300 BC? Get to know how to use this purple veggie in your garden, kitchen, and diet.

In the Garden

It is a member of the nightshade family, making it a close relative of tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. The large, dark purple Italian eggplant is most commonly carried in the grocery stores, but there are many other varieties to explore. Smaller cultivars include the Fairytale eggplant, an heirloom variety with light purple and white stripes, and the round, reddish-purple Indian eggplant. Japanese and Chinese varieties are long and skinny with a tender skin and few seeds.

Eggplant grows best in hot weather and is very sensitive to cool temperatures (below 50F). Start seeds indoors in April and transplant in June. Expect about 70 days from transplant to harvest, when the fruits have reached full size with a glossy sheen. Good companion plants include other nightshades, which prefer similar soil and nutrients, as well as bush beans, which help to deter pests. 

In the Kitchen

Eggplant is best stored in a loose bag in a cool place on the counter as storing it in the fridge can cause browning and changes in flavor. The neutral flavor and spongy texture makes it a good substitute for meat. This easy recipe for grilled eggplant is sure to please vegetarians and carnivores alike! 

Grilled Eggplant 

Ingredients
3 large eggplants (any variety), cut into rounds or cut lengthwise
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp oregano, dried or fresh
½ tsp thyme, dried or fresh
½ tsp Red pepper flakes 
½ tsp honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tbsp chopped basil or parsley

Instructions

  1. In a container big enough to fit the eggplant, mix together the olive oil, vinegar, herbs, garlic, honey, salt and pepper and adjust to taste. 
  2. Add the cut eggplant and marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour. 
  3. Preheat the grill to high. Put the eggplant on the grill, then lower the heat to medium. Brown on both sides, about 5 minutes on each side. 
  4. Remove from grill and top with feta cheese and chopped basil or parsley. Serve with tahini sauce or yogurt sauce. 

In the Medicine Cabinet

While eggplant is not particularly high in any vitamins or minerals, it is very low in calories and provides a healthy dose of fiber. Use it to compliment other seasonal veggies and bulk up a mixed dish without adding extra calories. 

Do nightshades really worsen arthritis? Solanine, a chemical compound found in nightshades, is thought to trigger inflammation in some people, which can worsen symptoms of inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Despite a good deal of anecdotal evidence, there is little scientific research on the subject. Listening to your body is always the best call! If nightshades don’t agree with you, don’t eat them, but if you don’t notice a difference there’s no need to cut these delicious and nutritious veggies out of your diet. 

Travertine Garcia is the Community Health Intern for SE Michigan with Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at health_intern@localdifference.org

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