Red Eggplant and the Fainting Imam

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The red-orange orb in our east coast TakeHome cases this week may make your brain think "tomato" and your hands think "eggplant." The psychology of color is fascinating. A study by psychologists at the University of Rochester found that red is an aphrodisiac color. By the way, what did you pick out of the box first? Marketers try to capture our attention with colors all the time, and so do plants. Red in nature attracts. Large bird and mammal omnivores like red fruit, as it’s easy to see. As a result, the plants with red fruit get wider seed dispersal - hence the adaptive advantage for both mammals and plants. Not red flowers though, as bees can't see red.

The Turkish Eggplant is indeed such an attention-getting plant. It is a rare heirloom seed originally from Turkey but grown in the warm Pennsylvania soil. Eggplants are a staple of Near, Middle and Far East cuisines. There are many ways to enjoy eggplants: roasted and puréed as in Arabian Baba Ghanoush; grilled on a Persian Kebab; or paired with basil as in both Italy and Thailand.

A very popular Turkish dish is Imam Bayildi, which translates in Turkish to "the Imam fainted." Why did the Imam (religious leader) faint? Because to braise the eggplant it took so much olive oil, it soaked up all his wife's dowry. Or maybe he fainted from pleasure of the mingled flavors of braised eggplant, tomato, and garlic of this delightful dish.

For a lighter and healthier eggplant preparation, just peel and slice the eggplant, sprinkle liberally with salt and let sit. Rinse off the salt and pat dry. The salt draws out the moisture. Eggplants belong to the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. Eggplants are rich in antioxidants and are high in dietary fiber, vitamin B1, potassium, copper, and manganese.

Turkish eggplants are small enough to cut in half and BBQ or grill directly, or use the eggplant as a vessel for your favorite stuffing. The skin should be peeled.   Drizzle with olive oil, grill, add a spritz of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of basil and enjoy.

Eggplant is fragile and should be refrigerated, but not in the coldest section. Use within one week.

- Heidi Lewis


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