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Eggplant is underappreciated, says "How to Cook Everything" author and "The New York Times" food columnist Mark Bittman. It is versatile and meaty while being low in calories and fat and rich in dietary fiber and essential nutrients like manganese, copper and folate. However, eggplant's flesh readily absorbs fat. Preparing the vegetable using a low-fat method is key to keeping calories under control.
Bake, Broil or Grill Instead of Frying
One of the most popular dishes containing eggplant, eggplant Parmesan, typically contains over 1,000 calories and 30 grams of saturated fat per serving, according to "Cooking Light." To prepare the dish in the traditional manner, slices of eggplant are dredged in flour and fried, then layered under tomato sauce and cheese. For a healthier version, substitute broiled or grilled eggplant slices and a smaller amount of reduced-fat cheese. You can also coat the eggplant slices in whole-wheat panko crumbs and bake them until crisp for a revised eggplant Parmesan dish with less than half the calories and fat of the original.
Roast or Steam Before Sauteing
Sauteing eggplant cubes until they are tender can require 1/3 cup of oil or more since you'll need to add oil during the cooking process to replace what the vegetable absorbs. Instead, "The New York Times" food writer Martha Rose Shulman advises cutting a whole eggplant in half, then roasting the two halves cut-side down until the flesh has softened. After the eggplant is cool, slice it and use it in stir-fries or sautes. The same thing can be done with halves of steamed eggplant.
Leave the Skin Intact
While many eggplant recipes call for the vegetable's skin to be removed before cooking, Shulman advises leaving it intact. The skin of darkly colored eggplant -- especially the purple-hued variety -- is a rich source of an anthocyanin compound known as nasunin. A study published in "Toxicology" in 2000 reported that the nasunin in eggplant peels acts as a powerful antioxidant. All eggplant recipes can be prepared with the skin left on. If you prefer a thinner peel, look for small, firm, young eggplants.
Pickled eggplant slices, often used in Mediterranean cuisine as part of an appetizer course or antipasto plate, are high in sodium. A 1-cup serving of pickled eggplant contains 2,277 milligrams of sodium, nearly all of the 2,300-milligram daily limit recommended for healthy adults. Baba ghanoush, a dip based on roasted eggplant, is a low-sodium and low-fat alternative. Prepared with tahini, nonfat yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and seasonings mixed into the cooked, pureed eggplant, a serving of baba ghanoush has 250 milligrams of sodium, 8 grams of total fat and 1 gram of saturated fat. Serve the dip with vegetable sticks or whole-wheat pita bread.
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- How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food; Mark Bittman
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Eggplant, Raw
- The New York Times: The Misunderstood Eggplant
- Fruits & Veggies More Matters: Eggplant -- Nutrition, Selection, Storage
- Cooking Light: Recipe Makeover -- Eggplant Parmesan
- How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food; Mark Bittman
- Toxicology: Antioxidant Activity of Nasunin, an Anthocyanin in Eggplant Peels
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Eggplant, Pickled
- Whole Foods Market: Baba Ghanouj
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.
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