Mad about eggplant

When the Moors brought eggplant to Spain in the 12th century, Europeans believed that this "apple of madness" caused insanity, leprosy and bad breath. Why the bad rep? Guilt by association: eggplants, like tomatoes, belong to the same family of plants that includes highly toxic belladonna. That's likely why the shapely fruit (native to India and China) didn't catch on as a valuable food source in Europe until nearly 300 years after it was introduced. Today, cultures worldwide cherish the eggplant for its antioxidant-packed purple skin and satisfying meaty texture-which blends beautifully in many dishes. Don't think you like eggplant? This recipe has turned even the most ardent eggplant skeptics into believers (serve with toasted whole-wheat pita or pita chips):

Baba Ganouj

Baba GanoujBaba Ganouj2 medium eggplants (about 1 pound each)
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
11/4 teaspoons salt
Extra-virgin olive oil for garnish
Ground sumac for garnish
Equipment: Skewer

1. Preheat grill to high.
2. Prick eggplants all over with a fork. Thread garlic cloves onto a skewer. Grill the eggplants, turning occasionally, until charred and tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Grill the garlic, turning once, until charred and tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
3. Transfer the eggplants and garlic to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, peel both. Transfer to a food processor. Add lemon juice, tahini and salt; process until almost smooth. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with sumac, if desired.

Makes 12 servings, about 1/4 cup each.
To make ahead: Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Per serving: 32 calories; 1 g fat (0 g sat, 1 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 5 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 2 g fiber; 245 mg sodium; 163 mg potassium.

Ready to experiment some more? Try these delicious recipes:

Eggplant-Couscous Rolls is great vegetarian entree with an ample amount of protein from the couscous and feta cheese.

Grilled eggplant, marinara, fresh basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese turns the Italian-restaurant favorite into Eggplant Parmesan Pizza.

A Spanish-themed Grilled Smoky Eggplant Salad showcases the sweet smokiness of grilled eggplant. Like most grilled vegetables, eggplant can be served at room temperature or warm. If you find several varieties of eggplant-they come in myriad sizes and colors-this is the time to try them out.

Lamb and eggplant are combined in dishes throughout the Mediterranean. Together they deliver a complex, hearty, earthy flavor that's truly satisfying. In Lamb & Eggplant Ragu, toasted pine nuts and tangy feta cheese are excellent accents.

By Nicci Micco

Nicci Micco is senior editor of features and nutrition at EatingWell. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management. She's addicted to ice cream and pizza. But she also can't imagine going a week without eating sweet potatoes, salad greens or kidney beans. Kale and beets also rank at the top of her favorite-foods list.

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