Eggplants: Nutrition, Recipes Ideas, Benefits

When was the last time you picked up an eggplant to make more than just eggplant parmesan? This underappreciated veggie can make a killer eggplant parmesan, but it can also make so much more.

Find out just how healthy eggplant is and check out some of the amazing ways you can use it in your kitchen.

Eggplant Facts

This member of the nightshade family is related to tomatoes, white potatoes and bell peppers. Botanically, eggplant is considered a berry but gastronomically it’s a vegetable. The most popular eggplant in the U.S. is the teardrop shaped vegetable with dark purple skin, but eggplants actually come in all shapes and sizes. You can find round, elongated, thick, and thin shaped eggplants that come in white, black and even pale lavender. The flesh inside is an off-white color and spongy texture.

Eggplants are grown throughout the world, but in the U.S. they’re mostly grown in Florida and New Jersey. Eggplant season runs from July through October.

[READ: The Best Vegetable Replacements for Carbohydrates.]

Eggplant Nutrition

One cup of raw, cubed eggplant provides:

— 21 calories.

— 5 grams of carbs.

— 2 grams of fiber.

— 3 grams of sugar.

— 1 gram of protein.

It’s free of fat and saturated fat. Eggplants also provide an array of vitamins and minerals, including copper, which it’s a good source of.

You’ll also find several phytonutrients in eggplant, including anthocyanins, which give the vegetables its gorgeous purple color. Anthocyanins have been shown to have a myriad of benefits, including antioxidative and antimicrobial functions. Other potential benefits of anthocyanins include reducing the risk of heart disease and helping to prevent cancer. Additional phytonutrients found in eggplants include chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant that helps fight cancer, and nasunin, an antioxidant that helps protect the brain.

Some folks shun eggplant because they’re a member of the nightshade family and believe that a compound called alkaloids in nightshades can cause inflammation. Many folks with inflammatory types of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis report worsening symptoms such as joint pain and swelling after eating nightshades.

However, according to the Arthritis Foundation, this is anecdotal, and research doesn’t support this theory. In addition, a 2011 study found that yellow and purple potatoes (which are also nightshades) lowered the blood markers for inflammation in healthy men. If you do think something you’re eating is influencing inflammatory symptoms, it’s best to speak to your physician and registered dietitian.

[SEE: Superfoods for Summer Salads.]

Selecting and Cooking Eggplants

Choose eggplants that are heavy for their size. They should have no cracks or discoloration. Store eggplants in the refrigerator crisper drawer and use within five to seven days.

Meal ideas

Although eggplant parmesan is a favorite, there are so many more ways to cook up this superstar veggie. Here are six ways you can prepare a meal with eggplants:

1. Puree cooked eggplant to make babaganoush, an eggplant dip. It pairs well with pita chips and veggies like carrots, celery and bell peppers.

2. Dice eggplant with the skin on and add to your stir-fry at the beginning, when you add your hard vegetables.

3. Slice eggplant into rounds, sprinkle with salt, black pepper and olive oil and grill. It makes a quick and easy weeknight side dish.

4. Cube eggplant, toss with curry sauce and sauté over medium-low heat until the eggplant is tender.

5. Spiralize eggplant and cook stovetop in a medium skillet with olive oil for five minutes. Toss with your favorite pasta sauce.

6. Bake eggplant to soften the eggplant flesh and use as a meat alternative in meatballs or burgers. To bake, cut the stem end off of the eggplant and pierce the skin gently a few times with a fork. Place the eggplant on a baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for about one hour. Remove the eggplant from the oven and allow to stand for 10 to 15 minutes until it is cool enough to handle. Remove the skin from the eggplant and use the flesh as you wish.

[Read: Air Fryer Recipes.]

Lentil-Stuffed Eggplant Recipe

This is one of my favorite recipes for eggplants.

Serves: 4 Serving size: 1 eggplant half

Ingredients:

— Cooking spray.

— 2 eggplants, halved lengthwise.

— 1?4 cup (60 mL) olive oil.

— Salt.

— 1 yellow onion, chopped.

— 1 carrot, chopped.

— 2 cloves garlic, minced.

— 1 can (14 to 19 oz/398 to 540 mL) low-sodium brown lentils, drained and rinsed.

— 1 can (14 oz/398 mL) finely diced tomatoes, with juice.

— 1 zucchini, grated.

— 1?2 cup (125 mL) low-sodium vegetable broth.

— 1 tsp (5 mL) dried parsley flakes.

— 1?2 tsp (2 mL) smoked paprika.

— 1?8 tsp (0.5 mL) ground black pepper.

— 1?2 cup (125 mL) grated Parmesan cheese.

— 1?4 cup (60 mL) panko bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat.

Instructions:

1. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C)

2. Scoop out some of the flesh from the eggplant halves, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) around the edge. Set the halves aside.

3. Add the scooped-out flesh and 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the oil to a blender or food processor and purée. Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl and set aside.

4. Brush both sides of the eggplant halves with 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the oil and place on the prepared baking sheet skin-side down. Sprinkle 1?4 tsp (1 mL) of the salt onto the flesh side of the eggplant halves. Bake until the eggplants are slightly softened and browned, 20 minutes.

5. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C).

6. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbsp (30 mL) oil over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the onion, carrot, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the puréed eggplant, lentils, tomatoes with juice, zucchini, vegetable broth, parsley, paprika, black pepper and 1?4 tsp (1 mL) salt and stir to combine. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the flavors combine, 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

7. In a small bowl, mix the Parmesan cheese with the panko bread crumbs.

8. Divide the lentil mixture equally between each of the four eggplant halves. Top each eggplant half with 3 tbsp (45 mL) of the cheese-panko mixture. Return to the oven and bake until the cheese has melted and the top is slightly browned, 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the eggplant cool for 10 minutes.

9. On each of four plates, place one eggplant half. Serve warm.

Recipe from The Family Immunity Cookbook by Toby Amidor. Published by Robert Rose Books.

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Eggplants: Nutrition, Recipes Ideas, Benefits originally appeared on usnews.com

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