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The mineral-rich commoner

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An asset: The brinjal, low in fat and rich in minerals, grows easily in any garden. — File Photo: K. Murali Kumar
An asset: The brinjal, low in fat and rich in minerals, grows easily in any garden. — File Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Brinjal, the most common vegetable grown across India, is native to this land and has been around for 4,000 years. India is the second-largest producer of this vegetable, the first being China. We have at least 2,500 varieties, including hybrid ones that come in so many shapes and colours. Some of the wild types form an important ingredient in ayurvedic medicine.

Brinjals grow easily and are an asset to any garden. About four to five plants will provide enough for an average family. Some of the hybrid varieties yield 70 to 75 brinjals per plant. In three months, my four plants have yielded about 25 kg. They grow in a variety of garden soil but sprout best in loose, well-drained earth rich in organic matter.

Sow the seeds in pans with cocopeat in about a fingernail depth. Water with a spray can. They take ten to fifteen days to germinate and seedlings are slow to establish. When they are about five to 10 centimetres, transplant them into the garden bed or containers. If grown on the ground, space them 45 to 60 cm between plants and 60 to 90 cm between rows. Water regularly, and when the brinjal starts appearing, apply a potassium-rich fertilizer. In 45 to 75 days, plants begin to yield. After the first phase of harvesting, trim the plant. With adequate manure, it can yield for another 30 days. Some varieties have a thorny stem. So it is better to use cutters for harvesting.

Oh bother!

The common pests that bother the brinjal are fruit and shoot borers, mealy bugs, aphids and white fly. In home gardens, they can be controlled with neem oil and soap solution. The controversial Bt brinjal, created by inserting a gene from the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, is said to provide resistance against fruit and shoot borer. The strong views against this are based on the possible adverse affect on human health.

Benefits

Brinjal is rich in calcium, phosphorus, potassium, beta carotene and folate. It is low in calories and fat and rich in soluble fibres.

This vegetable is cooked in a variety of ways — stewed, fried, baked, roasted and curried.

Each country has its own popular recipe, like the French Ratatouille or the Turkish mousakka.

In India, every region or even each family has its own preferred recipe.

Here is my favourite one.

Thilaka Baskaran espouses the benefits of the brinjal