When I was 11, a strange purple vegetable appeared in our kitchen. My family had moved to France and my mother, enthralled by the bulbous aubergines at the market, lugged a giant one home. It looked strangely amorphous. I promptly declared it inedible. But then came a ratatouille, a stew of vegetables I never would have eaten on their own. Simmered with garlic and onions, the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes were a heady, irresistible dish. I was hooked.
Later, I found eggplant had a magical effect on so many Mediterranean dishes, absorbing the flavors of the region (olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs), giving recipes a buttery richness and often replacing meat. Stuffed eggplant became my vegetarian staple; eggplant caponata, a Sicilian spread often spiked with anchovies, a go-to appetizer.
Today, I keep reading studies on how the traditional Mediterranean eating pattern is associated with such low incidences of heart disease, diabetes and even depression. Some say it’s the olive oil, some say it’s the abundance of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fresh seafood. I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but those weird purple aubergines have simply made me happier. I thank my mom.