All about eggplants

Some foods get an undeserved bad reputation because it is all too common to encounter them in badly prepared dishes. Eggplant (aka aubergine) is one such food, and its very mention can conjure images of a soggy, slimy, tasteless vegetable. Perhaps eggplant haters could be converted to lovers if they experienced it expertly made, and to that end, Becky Krystal is here to help. She offers tips from the experts on how to buy, store, and cook with eggplant.

The journey to great eggplant dishes starts with selecting the right ones. According to vegetable guru Deborah Madison, no matter its variety or color (which can be anything from white to the more common ‘eggplant’ purple), the vegetable should be smooth, firm, and glossy. It should feel heavy in your hand, and if it is too light, that can indicate that the flesh is spongy and that it is full of seeds.

As far as storage is concerned, Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst, authors of The New Food Lover’s Companion suggest keeping the vegetable in a cool, dry location for a couple of days before moving it into the refrigerator for longer storage. Since eggplant is ethylene sensitive, it should not be stored near ethylene producers such as tomatoes or melons.

The cooking part is where things get tricky. Depending on what dish you are making, you can roast, grill, braise or fry the vegetable. Although you may have read that salting is mandatory, it really depends on what the end result is going to be. If you are frying the eggplant, salting helps drive out some of the moisture which can lead to the dreaded soggy eggplant that makes people dislike it. According to food scientist Harold McGee, while salting can help keep eggplant from soaking up too much oil when frying, it doesn’t do much to remove bitterness. He adds that “bitterness is not common in modern eggplants.”

Once you have your firm, glossy eggplant in hand, turn to the EYB Library where you will find over 4,500 online recipes for the vegetable, including the Stuffed aubergine with lamb & pine nuts from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi pictured above.

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  • nicolepellegrini  on  August 5, 2020

    I think I learned to actually appreciate eggplant after a trip to Sicily, where it appears *everywhere* – I had more Pasta Alla Norma in 10 days’ time than I can count, yet every place made it differently. And then of course the caponata, involtini, grilled eggplant… etc.

    My favorite eggplant recipe, however, is Marcella’s eggplant parmesan from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

  • Ro_  on  August 6, 2020

    As an aubergine lover, shacked up with an aubergine hater, I can say that my all-time favourite aubergine recipe is Fuchsia Dunlop’s Fish Fragrant Aubergines. Whereas the one that has met with the most enthusiasm from my aubergine-hating other half is Pasta Alla Norma from Ottolenghi Simple (which I also love).

  • GiselleMarie  on  August 7, 2020

    Eggplant has always been my favorite vegetable. Well, “always” meaning after the age of 11 or 12 when a neighbor of Italian descent taught my mother how to make eggplant parmesan. My love for eggplant has become a joke in my family: my three daughters watch me every time we eat in a restaurant. I study the menu with great concentration and a furrowed brow as if I might actually order something else, but then I order the eggplant! I cook eggplant at home frequently but not usually as parmesan because of its labor intensity. My husband is Chinese, so we often enjoy the long, skinny Asian varieties stir-fried with ginger, garlic, and soy-based sauces. Any relatively quick Italian preparation is also at the top of my list. I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve never had Pasta a la Norma, but I will definitely make it now that two of you have given it high praise. I own Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” so I’ve also added her version of Eggplant Parmesan to my list of recipes I must try.

  • MarciK  on  August 8, 2020

    Eggplant and tomatoes are a favorite combination of mine.

  • Pamyoungvb  on  August 8, 2020

    We made eggplant parmesan for the very first time last week. Sliced rounds from a couple of medium eggplants. These were par-grilled over charcoal with a light coating of EVOO. Layered that in a 9×13 pan with leftover Sunday Gravy made with hot Italian sausage and beef short ribs (bones removed), grated parmesan and pecorino. Absolutely wonderful. It will now be a regular for us.

  • RGCookBooks  on  August 9, 2020

    Harold McGee may not have bitter eggplant, but I can’t seem to make baba ghanoush without a slight bitterness. Any suggestions?

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