What is it? One could be excused for turning one's nose up at an eggplant - what with its odd shape, its glossy, squeaky skin, and its unappetizing name (garnered because one rarer variety happens to look like a hen's egg)? But one would be missing out! Eggplant come in a dizzying variety of shapes - gourd-like, long and slender like a cucumber, plump and oval, or egg-ish - and a rainbow of colours - deep purple, bright violet, yellow, orange, green, red, and egg-white. And eggplant, also known as aubergine, is not only delicious but bears many nutritional benefits. Must be why a Middle Eastern saying goes, "To dream of three aubergines is a sign of happiness."

What is it good for? Regardless of colour or shape, inside each eggplant awaits antioxidant-rich polyphenols, a suite of B vitamins, heart-healthy minerals, and fibre. And one cup will put you out only 27 calories! One notable nutrient found in eggplant is something called nasunin, a potent antioxidant that has been shown (in animal studies) to protect brain cells from free-radical damage.

What does it taste like? Bite into an eggplant, and your teeth may squeak across its shiny skin and spongy texture. You will note a subtle, agreeably bitter flavour. Eggplant's unique combination of taste and texture make it a natural complement to many different spices and flavours, a palate-pleaser common in the cuisines of India and the Mediterranean. It’s the base for babaganoush, and goes well baked or stir-fried with nearly any medley of vegetables or lean proteins. Grill a whole eggplant and slice it up to top a delicious mozzarella-and-mint sandwich.

Choose eggplants with shiny, smooth, unblemished skin and a vibrant colour. To test out an eggplant's ripeness, use your thumb to lightly press into the skin. If your touch leaves the skin dimpled, it's likely not ripe. Store your selected eggplants unwashed in a plastic bag in your refrigerator's crisper. Should you choose eggplant already wrapped beneath plastic film, remove them ASAP, allowing them to breathe, and follow the same storage instructions.

Amy Toffelmire