Eggplants are in season, and at the Hillsboro Saturday market, from July through October

Beneath its lipstick-purple exterior, the

vibrant, slightly outlandish-looking eggplant is a staple in the cuisines of many cultures. Martinez Family Farms have been bringing this versatile fruit — which can be baked, braised, boiled, fried, grilled, roasted, sautéed or stewed — to Saturday’s Hillsboro Farmers’ Market in downtown Hillsboro since 2007.

Eggplants come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The large, globular ones at Martinez Family Farms aren’t easy to grow, according to farmer Omar Duran.

Because the eggplant is native to the tropics and needs warmer weather to grow, Duran said the farm starts the plants in a greenhouse, where they water the seedlings three times a week until they are about two inches tall. Then, they are transplanted outside and left to grow until the plants are about two feet tall and heavy with harvestable produce.

Despite its hearty flavor and dietary distinction, the eggplant is a fruit — it is actually considered a berry — and is related to the potato, bell pepper and tomato as part of the nightshade family. Eggplants are high in potassium, manganese and fiber: one fruit alone contains more than 15 grams of fiber, which is more than 60 percent of the daily recommended serving. In fact, its wholesomeness and versatility earned it the name “brinjal,” meaning king of vegetables, in India.

The eggplant spread from its native India all through Europe and Asia and became a component of many renowned (often well-named) dishes, from the French Ratatouille to the Arabic Baba Ghanoush. Because of its springy, firm texture and unique taste, eggplant can be used as a meat substitute in vegetarian or vegan dishes.

A ripe eggplant is firm and bulky with smooth, shiny skin and no soft or brown spots. Upon purchase, refrigerate the fruit quickly. In spite of their hardy appearance, eggplants are actually very sensitive to heat and cold, and perish quickly as soon as their inner flesh is exposed. Eggplants are generally available in supermarkets throughout the year, but are freshest during their season, which lasts from mid-July through October, according to Duran.

Martinez Family Farms, Hubrich Farms and the Tualatin Valley Garden Club will be selling eggplants at the Hillsboro Farmers’ Market for the remainder of the season.

Anisha Datta is communications assistant for the Hillsboro Farmers’ Market.

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