Most scientists believe that the eggplant originated in India in antiquity, and was first cultivated there over 4000 years ago–when, possibly, it was white and egg-shaped. In Sanskrit, it was called “vatinganah,” which gave rise to later names. Around 500 B.C., eggplant was introduced into China, where different hybrids were developed, of differing colors and shapes. Eggplant stayed on the march between the 9th and 12th centuries, migrating to the Middle East (where it picked up the important name “al-badhinjan”, related to the Sanskrit name), Egypt, Spain (“alberginia”), and southern Europe (where the Provençals started calling it “aubergine.”)
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There is one major feature of Indian cuisine that launches it into the gastronomic stratosphere: the Indian way with spices. I say with confidence that Indian chefs are the master spice practitioners of the entire culinary world; they know best how to select, treat and blend spices so that the finished effect in a dish is breathtakingly flavorful.
Now, if you’re reading this in California, it probably comes as no news to you…because your markets and farmers’ stands are overflowing with scrumptious pluots (pronounced PLU-otts) just now. But if you’re reading this elsewhere in the U.S., chances are you’re saying…plu-WHAT?
Feta is the one Greek cheese we all think we know–but the feta field is fiendishly complicated, resulting in a wide range of feta choices. To put it most simply for the taster/buyer: feta can be white, yellow-ish, hard, medium-hard, medium-soft, soft, creamy, salty, medium-salty, sour, medium-sour, hardly sour at all, bland, medium-intense in flavor, intensely sheepy-goaty. But how do you know which is which?
There’s an intriguing history here, including a famous legal wrangle. I break it all down for you, give you my aesthetic perspective…and urge you to get on a plane to Austria!