Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published September 24, 2010, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: Eggplant a great addition to healthy diet

The other night at our 4-H club meeting, one of the leaders brought a bounty of produce to share with the group. The vegetables included large green peppers and eggplant.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

The other night at our 4-H club meeting, one of the leaders brought a bounty of produce to share with the group. The vegetables included large green peppers and eggplant.

I didn’t realize we had missed an opportunity for an eggplant until we arrived at home. Each of my children grabbed a green pepper, but they bypassed the eggplant, which is not a regular part of our menu.

Maybe I need to prepare eggplant more often in our home.

Eggplant can be roasted, grilled, fried, steamed, sautéed or cooked. Eggplant is high in water content and low in calories at just 18 calories per half-cup of cooked eggplant. It provides some fiber, vitamin C and iron.

While we generally associate the color purple with eggplant in the U.S., the plant also is available in other colors and shapes. Some are pear- or egg- shaped, while some varieties are cylindrical.

Sometimes human relatives do not look very much like each other, and the same holds true in the plant world. Peppers and eggplant are in the Solanaceae family. Their cousins include potatoes and tomatoes, along with petunias and tobacco plants.

Eggplant history dates back to early China. When the eggplant made its way to Europe, however, Europeans gave it an unflattering nickname. The eggplant was called “mala insana,” which means the “apple of madness.”

According to food historians, the eggplant gained that unsavory name as a result of being in the nightshade family. Some nightshade plants are poisonous, and tomatoes also were shunned because they were believed to be deadly.

Eggplant, known as “aubergine” in France, is used in a variety of international cuisines, particularly Greek and Italian cuisine. Eggplant’s mild flavor and spongelike texture absorb the flavor of added ingredients, such as garlic, basil and oregano.

Do you tempt your palate with the flavors of international cuisine once in awhile?

Have you ever tried “ratatouille”? Many children became familiar with the dish as a result of a famous movie of the same name. The animated chef, who happened to be a rat, made an eggplant-containing signature dish. Ratatouille is a Mediterranean dish that often contains zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic and spices.

Perhaps you have tried Eggplant Parmesan at an Italian restaurant or at home.

This dish features eggplant dipped in egg and bread crumbs, then lightly fried and topped with tomato sauce and cheese.

Have you sampled moussaka? This dish features eggplant layered with a spiced meat filling and a creamy sauce. It somewhat resembles lasagna in its layering.

Babaganoush is another popular Greek recipe. It includes eggplant, garlic, parsley and tahini (sesame seed paste).

If any of these dishes sound appealing, pick up an eggplant and give it a try on your menu. When selecting an eggplant, choose one with shiny skin and no dark spots, which indicate decayed areas. Although the peeling can be eaten, more mature eggplant will have a tougher skin.

If you decide to try your hand at growing eggplant next year, see “All in the Family! Potatoes, Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplant,” a publication of the North Dakota State University Extension Service available at

Here’s a simple recipe featuring garden-fresh produce from local gardens, farmers markets or grocery stores.

Fall Veggie Skillet Casserole

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 medium eggplant

4 tomatoes

1 green or red pepper

1 onion

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Optional seasonings (basil, oregano)

Remove the skin from the eggplant. Cut the eggplant into cubes. Chop the tomatoes into small pieces. Cut the green pepper in half. Remove the seeds and cut it into small pieces. Chop the onion into small pieces. Cut the garlic into tiny pieces. Heat the oil and garlic in a skillet. Add vegetables, salt and pepper and cook until tender. Add other spices if desired. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Serves eight. Each serving has 90 calories, 9 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 6 g of fat, 3 g of fiber and 310 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.