It is true that Leonidio is the Eggplant capital of Greece, yet eggplants did originate elsewhere in the world before making its way to Greece. Read the below story to see the eggplant origin.
The Eggplant Story
- Taken from the Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines - Jeff Smith
A junior high school viewer asked me why eggplant is so called. "Eggs are not purple!" he claimed. Well, he is right on that point, but he is talking about a vegetable that is very old and has appeared in many forms. It goes back about four thousand years, and in South and South-east Asia, where it originated, it shows up globular and white (as well as purple and palest green and oblong and cigar-shaped too) and does live up to its name. It has been used as a popular food in the East for thousands of years. The West is another story.
The wonderful eggplant, which the Greeks and Romans now love dearly, did not reach Italy until the fourteenth century. It arrived with a rather bad reputation and was dubbed mela insana, which means "bad apple" (any strange or new vegetable seems to have been called an apple in those days), and the superstitious people of the Middle Ages claimed the vegetable was poison and would cause severe fevers! It took a while to catch on.
The Chinese, however, during the Sung dynasty (tenth to thirteenth centuries), made that plant very popular and it was considered proper for the rich households to nab the first eggplants of the season. The popularity of the vegetable has not decreased in China since that time.
Remember a few basic rules about cooking the eggplant. First, whether you are going to deep-fry it, grill it, bake it, sauté it, or pickle it, remember that the smaller the eggplant, the fewer the seeds and the less oil it will absorb. Eggplant is like a sponge when it comes to good olive oil, and in the Middle East people joke about a man's wealth in terms of his ability to provide enough olive oil when his wife is cooking eggplant.
The second rule is simple: Always slice and then salt the eggplant before cooking. Let it sit in a colander for an hour or so with ample salt, and then rinse it in fresh water and pat dry. This process will get rid of the bitter flavor that you remember from your childhood when your mother first decided to try eggplant on you. Prepared properly, it is one of the most delicious vegetables I know... in all three ancient cuisines.
Most people think of eggplant in it's familiar purple, pear-shaped form. In fact, it can be white, green, orange, mauve or striped, with a wide range of shapes. The tsakoniki melitzana is a long shape with a mauve colour to it.
Eggplant is extremely low in fat and calories, while high in fibre, minerals and amino acids. It is excellent for balancing diets heavy in protein and starches. As a member of the nightshade family, eggplant is rich in phytochemicals that may help prevent the formation and spread of cancer. Eggplant is also a good source of potassium, which helps to regulate blood pressure and heart function.
Choose eggplants that are heavy and firm; lighter eggplants are overripe and will have pulpy flesh. They should be free from blemish and have a uniform dark colour. Try them steamed or baked, keeping in mind that eggplant soaks up oil like a sponge. If you enjoy breaded eggplant fried in oil, use a small amount of heart-healthy oil such as olive, and oven fry it as an alternative.