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Eggplant: Hated Is Now Loved

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Winter Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(4) pages: 21 to 23

This vegetable’s nature, the Chinese say is cooling and sweet. Many believe it came to China from Southeast Asia, specifically where, seems people do not agree.

Overall, Chinese prefer long thin ones and seen on page 23 they call them ‘Japanese eggplants’. They eat them often, still ask many questions about them, and the most frequent is: “Is it really a fruit?” The answer is yes.

Some say it came to China during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE), but Sui Tang Yi, a prominent writer, called it kun lun tzu kua meaning ‘Malayan purple melon.’ Did he believe it came from Malaysia? There are those who say it came from Cambodia, Thailand, or somewhere else in Southeast Asia; few believe it came from China or Japan.

In most of Asia, they call the long thin ones ‘Asian’ or an ‘Oriental’ eggplant. Not so China, they call the one they like best and grow most often as the ‘Japanese eggplant.’ Neither round nor fat as the one shown on this page is called an Itlaian eggplant. The Chinese call them Japanese eggplants. They have the same purple/ black exteriors, and they also grow ones with green or white exteriors. We have never seen a fat one growing in China in any of our seventeen trips there. That amazes me as they grow so many other varieties from those small as cherries to the thin ones they call ‘Japanese.’ The Italian type can weigh about up to three-pounds each. In China and most of Asia, eggplants are cooked as vegetables, never eaten raw as most fruits are.

Some believe the Chinese spread this variety to many Asian countries including Japan and Korea. They call it ‘chia’ which is close to the Cantonese pronunciation of ch’ieh, and close to the Thai name of khia. In one source, we read it came to China by way of India, then went on to North and South America, but we do and did not believe that. We also read that in Sanskrit and modern Indian languages, it is better known as vatingana meaning ‘belonging to the windy class.’ That idea is associated with madness, and may be why some say eating one can make you mad.

We also read that in the seventh century when it reached Iran, they called it badinjan and did not always love it. Was it because it was black and bitter, the color like a scorpion’s belly, the taste like its sting? However, in Southeast Asia, many like bitter flavors so why did that bother them?

When the eggplant got to Balkan countries, it was called the ‘lord of vegetables’ and was better appreciated there. Maybe they shared their eggplant thoughts with Russians who called it baklazhan? Did they wonder if there was a connection with the Italians whose name was closer to theirs and is melanzana? Did they think it sounded like ‘crazy’ or mela insana meaning ‘crazy apple?’.

In its many travels, many people thought this fruit not healthy because one Pope’s doctor wrote “they are hard to digest, generate headaches and melancholy, even cancer or leprosy. These notions did not help their image nor their acceptance. Maybe this is why they were never sold well in Paris after a French doctor to the Pope said what he said. However, that fear did not last long nor was it accurate. When the Spanish and Portuguese brought its seeds to the Americas, they quickly became popular there. Was this because there were many Italians already living there?

In the US, few knew that Thomas Jefferson had them growing in Monticello. His African slaves gave him their seeds and planted them for him as they did okra, watermelon, black-eyed peas, and other vegetables. Did you know his people called them ‘guinea squash?’ That was published in The Carolina Housewife in 1847 with several recipes for them. Earlier, in 1770, they had that name in a book written by a cousin of Harriet Horry who liked them and as the first American to write about them, said they were good food.

These days, many cook the thin ones as K.C. Chang does mention them a couple of hundred years later in his 1977 book, Food in Chinese Culture. So does Elizabeth David, but not that way. Her article, in 1987 titled “Mad, Bad, Despised, and Dangerous” in Petits Propos Culinaire touts them negatively and did not help, maybe hindered their popularity. Maybe the Italian variety already had a positive image in the US by then. Nowadays, importers tell us the skinnier ones are gaining in popularity, and appreciated more as they are less bitter. Which ones do you like better?

Chinese and other Asians appreciate all eggplants because they say they clear stagnant blood, positively impact tumors, reduce bleeding, and are a good source of bioflavonoids, also renew people’s arteries, prevent strokes, reduce hemorrhages, and lessen dysentery, diarrhea, canker sores, and other mouth irritations if used as their charred powder. They also ease poisons from snake and scorpion bites, cure frostbite, and are great used as a poultice and in tea. Chinese tell their pregnant women to eat them sparingly; Japanese pregnant women are told not to eat any because they can causes a miscarriage. Below are several recipes Chinese do eat and love; you might, too.

Sesame-Sauced Eggplant

3 thin Asian eggplants, cut in thin strips one to two inches long
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sesame paste
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 scallion, minced
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, half toasted


1. Steam eggplant strips over boiling water for ten minutes, then drain and cool.
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients and stir into a bowl with the cooled eggplant strips. Set aside in the refrigerator overnight.
3. Drain, then serve in a chilled bowl.

Sesame-Sauced Eggplant

3 thin Asian eggplants, cut in thin strips one to two inches long
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sesame paste
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 scallion, minced
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, half toasted


1. Steam eggplant strips over boiling water for ten minutes, then drain and cool.
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients and stir into a bowl with the cooled eggplant strips. Set aside in the refrigerator overnight.
3. Drain, then serve in a chilled bowl.

Pork with Eggplant

1 cup vegetable oil
5 thin Asian eggplants, angle-cut into one-inch pieces
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
3 shallots, peeled and thin-slices
1 Tablespoon sa cha sauce
½ pound cooked roast pork, cut in very thin strips
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
1 scallion, thinly angle-cut


1. Heat a wok or fry-pan, add the oil, and stir-fry eggplant pieces for three minutes, then drain, set them aside on paper towels, and remove all but two Tablespoons of the oil from their pan.
2. Reheat this remaining oil and stir-fry the ginger, garlic, and shallot pieces for one minute, then add the sacha sauce and the roast pork and stir-fry for one minute, then add egg plant pieces, rice wine, sugar, and thin soy sauce, and stir-fry for one minute.
3. Put in a pre-heated serving bowl, toss in half the scallion pieces, and sprinkle the other half on top; then serve.

Dongbei Vegetables

1 cup vegetable oil
1 potato, peeled, angle-cut in one-inch cubes
3 thin Asian eggplants, angle-cut in one-inch cubes
½ red bell pepper, seeded and angle-cut into one-inch pieces
3 slivers shredded fresh ginger
3 cloves peeled and shredded fresh garlic
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup cooked hot rice


1. Heat wok or fry-pan, add the oil, then stir-fry the potato for two minutes.
2. Add eggplant pieces and stir-fry for one more minute, then add green and red pepper pieces and stir-fry a minute more.
3. Drain the vegetables on paper towels, discard all but a Tablespoonful of the oil.
4. Now add ginger and garlic, stir-fry for one minute, then add soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, and cornstarch and stir well.
5. Serve in a pre-heated bowl on top of the thermally hot rice.

Eggplant in Hot and Sour Sauce

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon baking soda
dash coarse salt
½ teaspoon sesame oil
3 thin Asian eggplants, roll cut into half-inch pieces
1 cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon Chinese black vinegar


1. Make batter of flour, cornstarch, baking soda, salt, and sesame oil, stir well, and set this aside.
2. Heat wok or fry-pan, add vegetable oil, then the roll-cut eggplant pieces dipped in the batter and drained of any excess, and fry them for two minutes, then drain on paper towels, and put them in a preheated serving bowl.
3. Heat brown sugar and Chinese black vinegar in a small pot until sugar is completely dissolved, and then pour this over the deep-fried-battered eggplant pieces, and serve.

Eggplant and Noodles

½ pound wide wheat noodles
1 cup vegetable oil
3 thin Asian eggplants, cut into half-inch cubes
½ pound ground pork or lamb
½ yellow onion, cubed
3 Tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
3 peeled garlic cloves, minced
5 Tablespoons sesame oil
1 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 Tablespoons mushroom soy sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 thin cucumber, cut in thin strips


1. Boil the wide noodles until almost soft then drain and toss with one Table spoon of the oil, and set them aside.
2. Heat wok or fry-pan, deep-fry the eggplant cubes and toss with noodles and set aside.
3. In one Tablespoon of oil, fry the pork or lamb until just before it is no longer pink, then add ginger and garlic and stir-fry one more minute, then mix in noodle mixture.
4. Now stir in the sesame oil and both soy sauces, and the granulated sugar and put all into a large serving bowl.
5. Next add the cucumber pieces, the noodle mixture, and serve.

Molten Eggs and Eggplant

5 large eggs
2 thin eggplants, angle-cut
1 cup vegetable oil
5 dried pitted dates
5 slices fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground white peppercorns
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup Chinese rice wine


1. Make a small hole in the shell of the narrow end of each egg, and put them in a sauce pot of cold water, and bring it slowly to a simmer, stir every minute or two for three minutes to keep the yolks centered, then remove the eggs from the hot water; and fill the pot with cold water, and crack the shells by gently rolling them, but do not take them out of the pot.
2. In another pot, add oil and deep-fry the eggplant for three minutes, then drain it on paper towels, and set oil a side for another purpose.
3. Now add all the other ingredients including the fried eggplant pieces, and bring to the boil with the eggs and drained eggplant pieces, and refrigerate these covered adding cold boiled water to cover, if needed.
4. The next day or before planning to eat them, discard liquid, peel the eggs and discard their shells, and cut them in half.
5. Serve these egg halves, cut side up, mixed with the eggplant pieces on a chilled serving platter, or put them on greens or cold noodles and serve them.

This is a thin or ‘Japanese’ eggplant.

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