Eggplant is in the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, and sweet peppers. Though we treat eggplant as a vegetable for culinary purposes, botanically it is a fruit, more specifically a berry containing numerous edible but bitter-tasting seeds.
Eggplant has its origins in India and spread from there throughout Asia in ancient times but only came to the West after 1500 AD. Though the eggplant we are most familiar with is long and dark purple, there are many varieties of eggplant cultivated throughout the world. These varieties include small round fruit, oval fruit, and even squat segmented fruit. They also range in color from dark purple to lighter shades of purple to white, green, and even orange.
Unlike tomatoes and sweet peppers, it is not common to eat eggplant raw because of its bitterness. In fact many people, including me, prefer to degorge the fruit before cooking it. In this process I slice the eggplant according to how I will be cooking it. Then I rub it with salt and let it rest in a colander for about an hour. Next I thoroughly rinse the salt from the eggplant and pat or squeeze out the excess water. From this point I proceed with however I plant to cook the eggplant. This process helps reduce the bitterness of the eggplant and turned me from an eggplant-tolerator to and eggplant-appreciator. It also makes the eggplant less spongy, which means it absorbs less oil in the cooking process.
Eggplant is a prominent ingredient in the cuisine of many different countries around the world. It is stewed, deep fried, battered and fried, stir-fried, roasted, stuffed, and grilled. It is paired with or marinated in numerous spices and sauces and served as an appetizer, side dish, or main dish.
The following recipe from Epicurious is one I will be making soon, though I will replace the vegetable oil with coconut oil.
Here is an example of eggplant in Italian cooking.
Gilled Eggplant with Lebneh is a perfect example of Middle Eastern cuisine.