Purple reign

Vibrant, in-season eggplants are easy on the eyes and do the body good.

Mad Apples. That’s the name this oversized crop was given hundreds of years ago when they were thought to make those who ate them go crazy. Today they're known as eggplants, or aubergines — a tomato-relative with a deep purple skin and a surplus of nutrients beneath. Despite their status as a fruit, eggplants are tough enough to be cooked like a vegetable and have a signature taste and texture: slightly bitter, bland and spongy (ideal for absorbing the distinct flavors of all the ingredients you cook them with.)

Eggplants are also earning a reputation as the new brain food. Among their many phytonutrients, one called nasunin protects our brain cells from oxidation. Nasunin won’t just keep your brain sharp, it also acts as an iron chelator, meaning it binds to iron, eliminating it from the body. Though iron is good for you, too much can increase free radical production, which in turn increases your risk for heart disease, cancer and aging. Eggplants also have a wide range of phenolic acids, including chlorogenic acid, which has anti-cancer, anti-viral and anti-LDL properties (as in, it helps lower the bad cholesterol in your blood.) From a dieter’s standpoint, eggplants are a waistline wonderfood. With loads of digestive-supporting fiber and just 19 calories per cup, you get a big nutrient bang for a small caloric buck.

Experiment with a variety of spices when cooking aubergines, since they absorb and complement added flavor. If you’re using oil, sweat them first with a sprinkle of salt. It brings out their water and prevents them from soaking up too much oil, saving you extra calories. Or try the recipe below:

Eggplant and Hummus Rolls
(serves 4)

1 large eggplant
2 tbsp. olive oil
¼ c. balsamic vinegar
½ c. hummus
¼ c. chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 red bell pepper, cut into ¼-inch strips, 16 pieces
1 zucchini sliced into strips
1 box alfalfa sprouts

1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
2. Remove ends of eggplant. Using a serrated knife, slice eggplant lengthwise to form ½ inch thick slices, about eight depending on the size of the eggplant. Place onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake eggplant until lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Flip onto other side to bake another five minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, puree hummus with lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Place eggplant slices on a cutting board. Place two tbsp. of the hummus spread on the short end of the eggplant slice. Place a small handful of sprouts, two pepper strips and two cucumber strips on one end and begin to roll, continuing until the end is reached.
4. Cut in half to form bite-sized pieces. Secure with toothpick and serve.

Nationally recognized nutrition expert and author Keri Glassman (@KeriGlassman) is the founder and president of Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice based in New York City.