Eggplants vary in shape and hue, but all make equally fine additions to a variety of dishes, ranging from appetizers to desserts.

Versatile vegetable: That's eggplant

Whether it's dusky purple, snowy white or shades in between, the hue of eggplant — unexpected in the vegetable world — earns shoppers' admiration.

"I think it's so pretty," said Glenda Ponder. "It catches people's eye."

But after stopping to stare, many customers leave Ponder's stall at the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market without a single specimen of this shiny nightshade. They simply don't know how to prepare it, Ponder said.

Beneath its colorful exterior, eggplant is in fact a blank canvas awaiting the cook's palette of spices. Lacking its own distinctive flavor, eggplant takes on the attributes of other ingredients.

"It's almost like tofu in my opinion," Ponder said.

That's exactly how Pat Adducci handles it. Admitting she's "not much of a cook," the 66-year-old Phoenix resident stir-fries slender Japanese eggplants with whatever she's got in the refrigerator.

Asian countries have been cultivating eggplant — also known as aubergine — for centuries. Arab cultures most likely introduced it to the Western World, around the year 1500. In the 18th century, Americans, Canadians and Australians dubbed the fruit "eggplant" because some yellow and white varieties resembled goose or hen eggs.

Today, white eggplant is regaining popularity, although its pasty persona can be off-putting, Ponder said. With names like ghostbuster, Casper and cloud nine, white eggplant can be used interchangeably with other varieties, she said.

Peeled, white eggplant is pristine, retaining none of the greenish glow found under a purple eggplant's skin.

"The texture is more creamy," Ponder said, adding that some chefs prefer it for eggplant Parmesan.

Or, cooks can forgo the traditional tomato sauce and just eat eggplant breaded and fried, said Debbie Rose, 36, of Medford.

"I made fried eggplant last night," Rose said. "It's absolutely to die for."

To take full advantage of eggplant's range, try the following recipes, which use it as a main dish, appetizer, side dish and even dessert.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail

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