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Eggplant: a versatile summer vegetable

Wiki Spanish Food editorial team

The eggplant, which is part of the solanaceae family, is believed to come from India. It was brought over to Europe by the Arabs, which is why it appeared in Spain during their rule in the 13th century. Eggplants are elongated, and are sometimes spherical, cylindrical or egg-shaped. They have smooth, shiny skin with a unique purple color, which eventually gave rise to its name. Its flesh is firm and its flavor is peculiar, and at one end it has what looks like a green, thorny crown, which gives it an added appeal.

It wasn't widespread in the West until the Middle Ages, and later it became extremely popular in Mediterranean countries. It adds a beautiful touch to gardens and markets, and is available in fruit and vegetable shops all year long since it's grown in greenhouses; however, it's most delicious in summer and fall. It needs hot weather and abundant water to grow.

A Mediterranean crop

This vegetable was originally grown in the High Middle Ages in gardens in Andalusia and on the east coast of Spain. Apparently, from Catalonia it extended to France: in fact, the French word aubergine comes from the Catalan auberginia, an adaptation (according to Néstor Luján) from al bagingana, an Arabic and Persian word. The eggplant has been, and continues to be, especially popular in Sicily, off the coast of Italy, where there are an infinite number of recipes, as well as in many other places on the Mediterranean Sea.

In Spain, it's predominantly grown on the Mediterranean cost, especially in plastic greenhouses in Almería, although pickled eggplant from Castile-La Mancha is downright famous.

Pickling the Almagro eggplant

Eggplant from Almagro, which is in a class of its own and has a Protected Geographic Indication (PGI), has a long-standing history of being grown in the area, since farmers in the region generally reproduce them using their own seeds. Additionally, in this region, eggplants are prepared using an age-old artisan technique. Aside from pickling, it is also sold stuffed and cut in pieces.

It's very low in calories (19 per 100 grams) and rich in potassium and calcium. It also has small amounts of vitamins A, B and C.

From a culinary standpoint, eggplant is enormously versatile. Traditionally, it is prepared battered with egg and fried, sliced and fried in oil, au gratin, and stuffed. It's also a common garnish for meat and fish. The eggplant is a basic ingredient in vegetable and Manchego cheese millefeuille, and even as a side to salmorejo. In general, it pairs very well with other vegetables and with bread products, such as coca, and is delicious simply battered. During the summer, it tastes devine alongside a Rueda Verdejo.

 They are a part of are famous recipes from the east, such as moussaka (a mainstay of Greek and Bulgarian cuisine), eggplant with cheese, and almodrote (an olive oil, garlic and cheese sauce served with eggplant), a very popular Jewish dish.

Where to eat eggplant

Eggplant still has a long way to ago before it secures a regular spot on restaurant menus, but here we propose a selection of places to savor its versatility.

In Almagro (Castile-La Mancha), MESON EL CORREGIDOR is located in a very large house from the 18th century, where Juan José Garzón's eggplant cannelloni are very delicious. In the same city, LA MURALLA is another legendary locale, located opposite the Parador hotel, which serves eggplant rolls. In Murcia, LA MARY offers a different dish: slices of eggplant fried with molasses. In Madrid, authentic Greek restaurant DIONISOS serves moussaka made with eggplant, potatoes, ground beef and béchamel sauce. Popular TV personality Alberto Chicote serves eggplant tempura with red miso and paprika at his new restaurant YAKITORO. At RAICES, at Wellington Hotel in Madrid, chef Floren Domezain serves the fresh fruits and vegetables he grows on the building's 350 square meter rooftop garden, which includes eggplant.

ADDRESSES

MESON EL CORREGIDOR. Jerónimo Ceballos 2. Tel.: 926 860 648. Almagro, Ciudad Real.

LA MURALLA. Ronda San Francisco 34. Tel.: 926 861 010. Almagro. Ciudad Real

LA MARY. González Adaliz. 13, Tel.: 968 33213 646. Murcia

DIONISOS. León 17. Tel.: 914 203 595. Madrid

YAKITORO. Reina 41. Tel.: 917 371 441. Madrid

RAÍCES. Velázquez 8. Tel.: 915 754 400. Madrid

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11/12/2014