Solarium melongena, better known in English as eggplant (or aubergine, or brinjal), is the only nightshade growing in most vegetable gardens that did not originate in the Americas. Tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes all spread from west to east. Eggplant, however, was first cultivated in India before its range was extended by the Arabs to include the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. Europeans north of the Alps were initially very wary of this fruit, believing it caused insanity, calling it mala insana, or mad apple.
Though a staple vegetable in Indian cuisine, in the Ayurvedic tradition it is classified as a tamasic substance (like tobacco, alcohol, and garlic) that benefits neither the mind nor the body, withdrawing energy and clouding the powers of reason. In fact, eggplant is related to tobacco and contains nicotine, though in much smaller amounts: you would have to eat 9 kilos of eggplant to ingest the amount of nicotine in one cigarette.
Three American presidents are associated with eggplant. President Thomas Jefferson introduced eggplant to the United States, importing seeds from Europe and sowing them at Monticello. President Andrew Johnson’s favorite food was eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, onions, breadcrumbs, and celery, while President Warren G. Harding liked his sliced, baked, and marinated in mayonnaise, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire and chili sauce.
As for me, I like eggplant caviar, pasta with eggplant and fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, and the following casserole.
Eggplant casserole with creamy tomato-walnut sauce
1 kilo (2.2 lbs) eggplant, peeled and sliced into thin rounds or rectangles
2 onions, diced
3-5 garlic cloves, minced
3 tomatoes, diced
2 ts nutmeg
2 Tbs crème fraîche
4 Tbs ground walnuts
300-400 g cheese of your choice (I have used a mixture of Topfen and fresh sheep’s cheese as well as just mozzarella )
Fry the eggplant in the olive oil until cooked through. Transfer to a large rectangular baking dish.
Sauté the onions and garlic until translucent. Add the tomatoes, nutmeg, and basil, cooking several minutes until the tomatoes are done. Stir in the crème fraîche and walnuts.
Spread the sauce over the eggplant. Top with the cheese.
Bake at 200°C (400°F) for 20-25 minutes.