Big, purple, different
Eggplants originated in India and Asia, but they’ve found a nice warm home in the easy heat of California. On a recent visit to the Tuesday farmers’ market at Fremont Park, there were at least three vendors selling different types of eggplant. While the quantities weren’t abundant, they were at least available. And as summer winds down, so too will there only be a few more weeks to take advantage of the ever-intriguing eggplant.
Part of the nightshade genus, eggplants are relatives to the potato and tomato. While it grows like a fruit, it’s cooked and eaten like a vegetable, but technically is a berry. Eggplants were introduced to the Mediterranean sometime during the Middle Ages by Arabs, who had already adapted it to their cuisine. It’s a primary ingredient in many traditional Eastern dishes such as baba ghanouj and Armenian moutabel, and the Japanese enjoy them fried, steamed, broiled and pickled.
The smaller Japanese variety is a thinner eggplant, curved and dark purple. They’re sold by David Vierra of Dave’s Pumpkin Patch in West Sacramento, who also sells great heirloom tomatoes during the summer months.
“The Japanese [eggplant] is firmer, and it has a sweeter texture,” Vierra says. “They like heat. They grow very fast, all summer long. You can have them from June all the way to November.”
Perry Farms sells the large round and deep purple Italian eggplants, just feet away from Vierra. Coupled with tomatoes, Italian eggplants are perfect for French ratatouille and the always-popular eggplant parmigiana.
While they don’t cost much, eggplants do require a bit of preparation. Cooking times can take more than 30 minutes for most of the dishes mentioned above. But done correctly, eggplant can be well worth the wait.