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This is the fruit of the solanum melongena plant, which originated in India, where it was first used as an ornamental plant around 4,000 years ago. It is thought to have been brought to Europe in the 13th century by the Arabs who came to the Iberian Peninsula and who the fruit was very popular with.
There are several different coloured aubergines: dark red, purple or white. In Portugal, the varieties eaten most are the large purple hybrid, the shiny dark red super F-100 hybrid and the reddish purple embu, all with a green stem. The best ones are firm to the touch with a very shiny skin.
Aubergines are rich in proteins, vitamins (A, B1, B2, B5, C), minerals (calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium and magnesium) and alkaloids and are highly digestive, nutritional and laxative. They are recommended for arthritis (gout and rheumatism), diabetes and skin inflammations.
In cooking, they can be used in dishes like couscous, soufflés, tarts and salads and they can be stuffed. They are also very good in lasagne.
To get rid of their characteristic bitter taste, cut them in half, rub with salt and rinse or leave them open and covered with water and salt, lemon or vinegar for at least 15 minutes. Rinse them and dry them with kitchen paper.
They can last one to two weeks in a plastic bag in the fridge.