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Crop of the Week: Eggplant
• Eggplant production in Yuma is minimal, with some devoted to seed production and a limited amount for the fresh market.
• Originally from the Orient, eggplant got its name from yellow and white fruited varieties with egg-sized fruits. The color of eggplant fruits vary from white to dark black, with the most common hue being purple.
• The eggplant, or aubergine as it is called in Europe, is extensively grown in eastern and southern Asia and in the U.S. Prior to the 15th century, it was grown mainly as an ornament as people were afraid to eat it, probably because, like the tomato and the potato, it is a relative of the deadly poisonous nightshade.
• Never eat raw eggplant since it contains the toxin solamine, which is destroyed by cooking.
• Native to India, the early varieties were bitter, but cultivation and crossbreeding have greatly improved the flavor.
• To select an eggplant, choose a firm, shiny fruit with a fresh green cap that feels heavy for its size. If it is not to be used right away, it is better to refrigerate it in a paper bag to draw away moisture or wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
• A simple and delicious way of preparing eggplant is to sprinkle with olive oil and seasoning, then grill or broil. Eggplant may be cooked with or without its skin. It can be baked whole, either plain or stuffed. One of the most popular methods of cooking eggplant is a la Parmesan, in which the sautéed slices are layered alternately with tomato sauce and cheese in an oven-proof dish, and then baked for about 45 minutes in a moderate oven. Add eggplant to vegetable soups or lasagna for a heartier texture. Grill eggplant and add it to your favorite sandwich.
• Eggplant mixes well with other vegetables, like tomatoes or mushrooms, or mixed with ground beef, lamb or tofu. They complement other foods nicely as a side dish, or are hearty enough to steal the show in a main course or appetizer.
• Eggplant is almost 95 percent water and only 25 calories a serving. It is a good source of fiber, folic acid, manganese, thiamin, vitamin B6, magnesium and potassium. It also has vitamin C, niacin, iron and some protein and pantothenic acid.
• Eggplant can be salted and then drained to draw out some of the moisture. Just slice, lay on a cookie cooling rack over the sink, sprinkle liberally with salt, let sit for an hour, turn and repeat. Then rinse off the salt and squeeze to ring out all the moisture.
• Eggplant may be blanched or steamed then frozen for up to six months.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at email@example.com or 726-3904.