A recipe for mashed eggplant with curry (Baigan Bharta)

Like the tomato, to which it is botanically related, eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a fruit, not a vegetable, although we consider and cook it like the latter.

Unlike the tomato, however, a food that generally adds flavor to other cooked foods, eggplant is wonderful in the way it takes on flavor. It is one of the great canvases in the kitchen. It has a mild flavor and was built by nature to be little more than a sponge. It’s set up to do its job from the start.

All over the world, eggplant is roasted, grilled, baked, braised, pan-fried, fried, smoked and stewed. The Turks boast of having 40 ways of cooking eggplant; it is omnipresent in the cuisine of the Near and Middle East. There is no ratatouille without eggplant, no Sicilian caponata, no baba ghanoush.

the Greeks make moussaka from it; Italians are famous for their melanzane parmigiana, which we Americans of all origins have eagerly embraced.

You can easily see how it gets its name from the eggplant commonly available in our grocery stores: it’s a large purple-black “egg” with a green cap on it. (If you ever come across a white eggplant, you will clearly see its ovoid character.) Smaller versions of the same are called Italian eggplants; they look like purple-black batons.

Chinese and Japanese eggplants are much more elongated than these two but similar in color, with Chinese eggplants sometimes approaching the hue of lavender. Thai eggplants are small and green striped; Indian, still small, striped and reddish-purple. Eggplants from the Philippines are medium in length and greenish purple. There are other eggplants, with other colors and shapes, from elsewhere.

All cook in much the same way, although each has its special place; Thai eggplant, for example, being one of the few that is easily eaten raw.

Their common problem in the kitchen is how their innate nature absorbs its cooking medium, most often oil, resulting in a greasy and often greasy taste in food.

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