Aubergines are not high in any single vitamin or mineral. However, it is very filling, while supplying few calories and virtually no fat, and its "meaty" texture makes it a perfect vegetarian main-dish choice. In various parts of Europe, eating aubergines was suspected of causing madness, not to mention leprosy, cancer and bad breath, which prompted its use as a decorative plant. But by the 18th century it was established as a food in Italy and France.

Look for a well-rounded, symmetrical aubergine with a satin-smooth, uniformly coloured skin; tan patches, scars, or bruises on the skin indicate decay, which will appear as discolorations in the flesh beneath. An aubergine with wrinkled or flabby-looking skin will probably be bitter. If you press the vegetable gently with your thumb, the indentation should refill rapidly if it is fresh. A good aubergine will feel fairly heavy; a light one may be woody. The stem and calyx (cap) should be bright green. A medium-size aubergine , 3" to 6" in diameter, is likely to be young, sweet, and tender; oversized specimens may be tough, seedy, and bitter.

Ideally, aubergines should be stored at about 10ºC. Cold temperatures will eventually damage it, as will warm conditions. You can store an uncut, unwashed aubergine in a plastic bag in the refrigerator salad drawer for three to four days. If the aubergine won't fit easily in the drawer , don't try to squeeze it in; the vegetable is so delicate that any undue pressure will bruise it. The skin is also easily punctured, leading to decay.

Wash the aubergine just before using, and cut off the cap and stem. (Use a stainless steel knife for cutting aubergines ; a carbon steel blade will blacken it.)

Aubergines may be cooked with or without their skin. If the aubergine is large, the skin may be tough, so you may want to peel it with a vegetable peeler. White varieties tend to have thick, tough skins, and should always be peeled. (If you're baking it , the flesh can be scooped from the skin after cooking.)

Many recipes call for salting eggplant before cooking it. This step draws out some of the moisture and produces a denser textured flesh, which means the aubergine will exude less water and absorb less fat in cooking. Salting also seems to eliminate the vegetable's natural bitter taste. Rinsing the aubergine thoroughly after salting will remove most of the salt; however, if you are following a sodium restricted diet you should not use this method.

To salt aubergines: Cut in half lengthwise (or slice or dice it, depending on the recipe) and sprinkle the cut surfaces with salt; 1/2 teaspoon is sufficient for a pound of aubergines. Place the salted flesh in a colander and let stand for about 30 minutes. You can then rinse the flesh , squeeze out the excess moisture, and pat dry with paper towels.

Unlike many vegetables, aubergines are not really harmed by long cooking. Its vitamin content is minimal, so you don't have to worry about destroying it. And undercooked aubergine has a chewy texture that can be quite unpleasant, whereas overcooked aubergine simply becomes softer. Just don't cook aubergines in an aluminium pan ; otherwise, the vegetable will discolour.

Bake: A whole aubergine that is baked yields soft flesh that's easy to mash or puree, and it requires no attention while cooking. Pierce the aubergine with a fork several times (otherwise it may explode as the interior heats up), place on a baking sheet, and bake until soft to the touch. Cooking time: 30 to 40 minutes in a 400° F / 200°C / gas mark 6 oven.

For baked aubergine halves, cut off the stem, then halve it lengthwise. Score the surface of the cut sides. Place the aubergine halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet and brush the cut sides lightly with oil.

Microwave: Pierce a whole aubergine with a fork and cook, rotating every two minutes. Or, place a 500g of cubed aubergine in a microwavable dish, cover, and cook. Cooking times: for whole, six to eight minutes; for cubed, three to four minutes.

Sauté: Aubergines cooked this way act as a veritable sponge for the fat, so sauteing (or any other form of frying) is not recommended.