Ever wonder why an eggplant is called an eggplant? Me neither. Until the other day I was at the market and the eggplant farmer was holding up a white eggplant to a customer saying, “… and so this is why they called them egg plants.” And sure enough, it looked just like an egg – a sort of elongated, slightly crooked ostrich egg, with some bruises and dents, but definitely an egg.
I am drawn far more to foods (both ingredients and dishes) that are imperfect than perfect. I was “schooled” in the Second City improv school of cooking and find it far more stressful to be given a script/recipe and told to follow it exactly as the writer wrote it, than to be given a line such as “make something with this asymetrical, twin eggplant”, and then see what happens. I like to discover what the other actors (ingredients) will bring to the stage, and then adapt as the story emerges. This sometimes leads to greatness, other times to failure, but I’ve never had an audience (read: friends who came to dinner) leave during intermission.
But back to the white eggplant…it’s actually considered a milder/less bitter “fruit” (which it is) than the common purple eggplant. But it’s rare to find because over the past century as they were transported and sold at greater distances, their downy white skin showed bang marks easily and buyers did not like the look of imperfection. So the purple ones took over and now they’re all we see. (Though some farmer’s markets still sell the white ones.)
Why I’m called an eggplant.
And if you can’t find white ones, the other way to get a milder eggplant is to go for the smaller purple ones since it’s the seeds that lend the bitterness and the smaller eggplants have less mature seeds.
There are some that believe that the other way to get a milder fruit is to choose the “boy” eggplant over the “girl”. The belief being that boys have fewer seeds. The way they say to tell male from female, is to pick it up and look underneath. At the bottom of the eggplant there is an indented, rough path. If it’s round it’s a male, if elongated it’s female.
But biology doesn’t seem to support the eggplant sex theory. Like many plants, they’re basically self-pollinating hermaphrodites and don’t need to have sex with a fellow eggplant to make baby eggplants. It’s a DIY process.
Some claim that the female (left) is more bitter than the male (right).
What I did with the bi-gendered eggplants when I brought them home was make this…
An interesting nutritional fact about eggplant: eggplants have trace (very trace!) amounts of nicotine – in fact more than any other edible plant. However you need to eat 20 lbs of eggplant to get the same amount of nicotine as you would in one cigarette. (How great would it be if teens starting thinking it was cool to eat eggplant …)
Oh and that gorgeous photo at the very top – I didn’t take it. Donna did. She wrote me the other day, saying, “We picked this in our garden! Feel free to use the photo.” So a million thanks Donna for this stunning portrait of imperfection.
Any eggplant tips or recipes to share? Or your views on “perfect imperfection” when it comes to cooking?
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