Versatile Summer Vegetable
Eggplant can be roasted, grilled, sautéed, pickled, steamed, baked, broiled and fried. Some of the small Thai varietals can even be sliced, seasoned and eaten raw. They come in more colors and shapes than they have names, from the popular dark purple oversized American cultivars of European ancestry to the teeny pale green Southeast Asian varietals, and long thin Chinese eggplants.
Tips for Cooking
When cooking eggplant it is best to lightly salt the cut pieces to rid them of their acrid bitterness and prevent them from acting like a natural sponge. Many a first timer has mistakenly pan fried eggplant at a low temperature and created an inedible oil soaked dish. But don’t let that scare you. I love to broil whole eggplants until the skin is scorched stiff, then I remove the flesh, drain it and season the eggplant for melitzanasalata, a Greek riff on babaganoush. My newest addiction is caponata, a wonderful Sicilian snack made with sweet and sour roasted eggplant with onions and tomatoes. The Turks make a wonderful spicy pureed eggplant salad bursting with charred hot chiles, lemon and parsley that is the best thing to happen to bread since butter.
Buying & Storing Eggplant
- Buy smaller, immature eggplants for most recipes. Full-size puffy ones may have hard seeds that are overdeveloped and can be bitter.
- Choose firm, smooth, eggplants. If you push with your thumb and the flesh gives slightly but then bounces back, it is ripe. If an indentation remains, it is past it’s prime and the insides will be mushy. If there is no give at all then the eggplant was picked way too early.
- Do not refrigerate your eggplants. Keep them in a cool dark place and use them right away, they only keep for a few days before they degrade in quality.
- If you are harvesting a lot of eggplants from your own garden, or bought a huge tote of them at the local farm, I suggest making lots of caponata. I did it last year and froze some with great success, but the majority of it I put up in quart mason jars following the manufacturers directions for canning vegetables.