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The fruit of a plant originating in India, the eggplant is a berry that is consumed like a vegetable. Also called “aubergine”, it has been known in Asia for over 2,500 years, having been cultivated in China since around 500 B.C. The Arabs and Persians presumably brought it to Africa prior to the Middle Ages, and it was from there that it was introduced into Italy in the 14th century. Because the first varieties of eggplant were very bitter, Europeans initially valued it for its ornamental qualities. They also believed it could cause insanity. Years of cultivation and crossbreeding of the eggplant have greatly improved its flavor. Today eggplant is cultivated mainly in China, Turkey, Japan, Egypt and Italy.


There are a number of different varieties of eggplant; most prefer warm climates, but some varieties have been adapted to temperate zones as well. The most common variety both in North America and Europe is the deep purple, oval eggplant that resembles a large pear. It grows on a 3-foot-high plant that bears beautiful purple-blue flowers. Several other varieties, often classified as Asian varieties, are also now available. Some can be as small as an egg, others are long and slender, and some resemble a bunch of grapes. The yellowish white flesh of the eggplant is spongy and contains small brownish edible seeds.

Sliced eggplant Eggplants

Serving eggplant

Eggplant is delicious hot or cold and can be prepared in a wide variety of ways. It is excellent stuffed, roasted, au gratin, puréed, as a casserole or on brochettes. It is an essential ingredient in Asian and Mediterranean cuisine, where it is often prepared with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, as in ratatouille, eggplant spread or moussaka.

Ratatouille Niçoise (serves 6)

This ratatouille is delicious hot or cold and is a good side dish for grilled meat or fish.

  • 2 lb (1 kg) tomatoes
  • 2 lb (1 kg) zucchini
  • 1lb (500 g) eggplant
  • 1 lb (500 g) sweet green peppers
  • 3 onions
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 2 tbsp. fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
  • salt and pepper
  1. Blanch and peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds and cut into quarters. Peel and chop the garlic and the onions. Slice the unpeeled eggplant and zucchini. Remove the stems from the peppers and cut them in half, removing the seeds and white membranes. Cut them into strips. Chop the basil and parsley.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp. of the oil in a casserole. Sauté the eggplant slices and set them aside. Heat the rest of the oil in the casserole. One ingredient at a time, sauté the zucchini, peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic. Stir occasionally, adjusting the seasoning, and set them aside as they are cooked.
  3. Return all the ingredients to the casserole, adding the bay leaf, bouquet garni and salt and pepper. Stir for a few minutes, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 1 hour, or until the vegetables are tender and their juices have evaporated.
  4. Transfer to a shallow dish and garnish with the chopped basil and parsley.