Cooking Techniques For A Wow-Experience With Humble Brinjal

Brinjal, aka Auberjine aka Eggplant is one of those veggies that many cooks find daunting. It feels like there are a lot of rules (and a lot of steps) involved in cooking eggplant to make it delicious — and to avoid a slimy, bitter mess. But learning how to cook with eggplant isn’t exactly mission impossible.

From choosing a good eggplant to preparing it, here’s everything one needs to know, with a few cooking techniques to help one make the humble eggplant a wow-experience.

Eggplant is native to India. It has been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since pre-historic times but appears to have become known to the Western world around 1500 Common Era (CE).

The first known written record of the eggplant is found in Qí mín yào shù, an ancient Chinese agricultural treatise completed in 544 CE. The numerous Arabic and North African names for it, along with the lack of ancient Greek and Roman names, indicate that the Arabs introduced it throughout the Mediterranean area in early Middle ages.

The scientific name Solanum melongena is derived from a 16th-century Arabic term for one kind of eggplant. The name eggplant developed in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada because the fruits of some 18th-century European cultivars were yellow or white, and resembled goose or hen’s eggs. The name aubergine in British English was based on the French aubergine (as derived from Catalan albergínia, from Arabic al-badinjan, from Persian badin-gan, from Sanskrit vatin-ganah).

In Indian and South African English, the fruit is known as ‘brinjal’. Aubergine and brinjal, with their distinctive br-jn or brn-jl aspects, derive from Arabic and Sanskrit. In the Caribbean island of Trinidad, it also goes by the Latin derivative ‘melongen’.

As a native plant in India, it is widely used in Indian cuisine in sambhar, chutney, curries and achaar. Owing to its versatile nature and wide use in both everyday and festive Indian food, it is often described (under the name brinjal) as the ‘king of vegetables’.

Eggplant provides a number of culinary values, and offers a unique, rich, complex flavour when cooked and used in cuisines from Japan to Spain.

The raw fruit can have a somewhat bitter taste, but becomes tender when cooked and develops a rich, complex flavour. Salting and then rinsing the sliced eggplant – known as ‘degorging’ — can soften and remove much of the bitterness. Some modern varieties don’t need this treatment as they are less bitter.

The eggplant is capable of absorbing large amounts of cooking fats and sauces, but the salting process reduces the amount of oil absorbed. The fruit flesh is smooth, the thin skin is also edible, thus the eggplant need not be peeled.

It is often stewed, as in the French ratatouille, Italian melanzane alla parmigiana, Greek moussaka, and Middle-Eastern and South Asian dishes. It may also be roasted in its skin until charred, so that the pulp can be removed and blended with other ingredients such as lemon, tahini, and garlic, as in the Middle Eastern dish baba ghanoush and similar Greek dish melitzanosalata or Indian dish baigan bhartha.

It can be sliced, battered, and deep-fried, then served with various sauces, which may be based on yogurt, tahini, or tamarind. The eggplant can also be stuffed with meat, rice, or other fillings and then baked. In the Caucasus, for example, it is fried and stuffed with walnut paste to make nigvziani badrijani.

Pick The Best Eggplant

Look for eggplants that have smooth, shiny skin and are firm with a little bit of give — a really soft eggplant is a big no. One of the key ways to tell if an eggplant is bad is to look at the stem. If it’s dry and mouldy, then avoid. When it comes to size, go small if you can. Big eggplants tend to have a tougher skin — which may need to be peeled off — and a more bitter flavour than smaller eggplants.

Prepping Of Eggplant

Preparing eggplant for cooking requires a number of time-consuming steps like salting, rinsing, etc. Instead, use these strategies to ensure perfect eggplant with minimal fuss. Eggplant is a low-maintenance prep kind of veggie. One simply needs to cut it to the desired shape (round slices, long strips, or a dice) — or just pierce the skin with a fork and roast it.

If the eggplant is larger and has a tougher skin, one can peel eggplant with a vegetable peeler. It’s common to salt eggplant before one cooks it — a grandma technique to reduce the bitterness and help draw out moisture. Smaller ones aren’t as bitter, so it’s only really necessary for frying and other cooking techniques where the moisture content really matters.

If one wants to salt the eggplant before cooking, slice it into rounds or dice the eggplant as needed for the recipe, then lay the pieces out on a paper towel, salt generously, and layer it with more paper towels (and perhaps a heavy pan to weigh it down). Let it sit for 45 minutes, then rinse the eggplant to wash away the excess salt and bitter liquid.

Eggplant acts like a sponge when it cooks, so it’ll soak up a lot of cooking liquid. Control the oil measurements precisely to make sure you get the texture just right. Eggplant can give the same texture as meat for your meatless Monday recipes and has a mild flavour that can easily pair with any flavour you bring into the dish — whether Mediterranean or a hearty Indian curry.

Go ahead and marinate eggplant with your favourite flavour combo to see what this veggie can do. Raw eggplant can be stored in the fridge for about a week. But you can actually freeze eggplant, as long as it’s been roasted and pureed. (You can also freeze dishes like miso eggplant dip).

Cooking Eggplant

Fried or baked eggplant is delicious, but it’s not the only way to cook eggplant. Try it sautéed, stir-fried, grilled, or broiled.

Baking — there’s no pasta in this comforting baked casserole, just layers of eggplant, sauce, and cheese.

To roast eggplant in the oven, pre-heat the oven to 200-225 degree Celsius, toss, brush, or drizzle your cut eggplant with olive oil, and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until the eggplant is tender, 18 to 20 minutes.

Grilling — marinate the eggplant in olive oil, red wine vinegar, and fennel seed to add a pop of flavour. Eggplant’s meaty texture makes it natural for cooking on the grill, whether you’re cooking it outdoors or on an indoor grill pan — and grilling gives eggplant a great smoky flavour. For grilled eggplant, rounds are most common; simply cook the eggplant until it softens and browns, about five minutes per side.

Sautéing — sautéed eggplant makes a great addition to curries and stir-fries, where it can take the place of meat. The eggplant can be cubed or cut into rounds, depending on your preference. To cook eggplant in a pan on the stove, simply heat olive oil in a pan over medium or medium-high.

Broiling — the broiler mimics the direct, searing heat of a grill, so ingredients like eggplant get a charred, smoky flavour while the insides stay soft. Serve the dip with a variety of veggies.

Health Benefits

Eggplants are a nutrient-rich food that contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They may benefit your overall health, including your heart. Eggplants belong to the nightshade family of plants and are used in many different dishes around the world. Eggplant provides a good amount of fibre, vitamins and minerals and less calories. It is high in anthocyanin, a pigment with antioxidants properties that can protect cellular damage. As it is high in fiber and polyphenols, both of which helps reduce sugar levels. The veggie is high in fiber and low in calories, both of which help in promoting weight loss.

Why wait, let the ‘king of vegetables’ be a regular in your diet.

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