Eggplant is a wonderful vegetable to use in cooking because its blandness absorbs the flavour of the herbs and spices cooked with it. Many European and Asian countries use eggplant as a staple in their cooking. Eggplant Parmesan from Italy, moussaka from Greece and Middle Eastern eggplant spreads loaded with garlic and lemon are some of the best. In China, it stars in spicy vegetable stir-fries, and Indian eggplant curry is a staple in vegetarian cuisine.
They come in various sizes and colours. The deep-hued, oblong, purple ones are the most common. They have a bitter taste unless they are salted for 30 minutes before cooking to allow the bitter juices to seep out. Other varieties do not need this treatment.
If making ratatouille, choose the long, purple or lavender Chinese variety. It’s sweeter and has fewer seeds than European varieties, and holds its shape when cooked.
The small, tender-fleshed black Japanese eggplant has masses of taste, never needs to be peeled and is great for stir-frying. The more bulbous, small Italian varieties are good for grilling, baking and stuffing.
The bitter Thai eggplant comes in a range of shapes and colors, and has a biting crunch, making it ideal for pickling or adding raw to sauces.
The most common of all is the European eggplant—the large, purple type found in supermarkets. It’s best for baking because its tough skin holds its shape well, while the flesh becomes soft and creamy.
White oval eggplants are believed to be the originals of the species, hence the name eggplant, although they look rather like ostrich eggs.
The paler purple football-shaped Sicilian variety have a custard-like texture and no bitterness. They are wonderful grilled and made into gratins.
Synonyms for Eggplant
The eggplant is a member of the potato family, and it is known worldwide as aubergine, berenjena, brinjal, garden egg, egg apple, patlican, melongene, melanzane, Guinea squash
Removing the Bitterness from Eggplant
In stews and purées, its bitterness usually isn’t a problem. But using a cooking method like frying or grilling concentrates its bitter character. Here are two methods for bringing the best out of eggplant:
SALTING: Slice, then sprinkle salt (coarse salt is best because less is absorbed) onto one side. Leave it for 30 minutes, to allow the solanine (a chemical found in the flesh) to leach out, and brush off with a damp cloth.
CHILLING: Arrange slices on a plate and put it in the freezer for about 4 hours. When the slices thaw, press out a lot of the water with the palm of your hand, releasing most of the bitterness. The eggplant will fry as if it had been salted, though the freezing will make the flesh fall apart a bit more.
CHOOSE MALE EGGPLANT: Some people believe the male eggplant is less bitter because they supposedly have fewer seeds – look at the indentation at bottom – if it’s deep and shaped like a dash, it’s a female. If it’s shallow and round, it’s a male. See our story Eggplant Sex Scandal to get to the truth!
Buying and Storing
What to look for:
- A nice color and glossy shine, like patent leather.
- Buy when they are still young, before they have reached full size.
- Immature seeds that are barely visible and have no discernible flavor.
- Tender skin, and rich, mellow flavor.
What to avoid:
- Eggplants that contain large, coarse, and dark seeds that are bitter.
- Eggplants that have a dull (brown or bronze to greenish yellow) color, and which have lost their glossiness.
- Flesh becomes tough and spongy in texture and develops a bitter flavor.
- Skin that is tough and bitter. Store eggplants in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
1 average-sized eggplant will serve 3 people.
1 medium eggplant = 1 pound
One pound of eggplant = 3 to 4 cups chopped eggplant.
How to freeze
- Choose glossy, small fruits with tender seeds.
- If to be fried, cut in 3/4-inch slices; for casseroles or in mixed vegetables, dice or cut in strips.
- Steam-blanch 2 minutes for small dice/thin slices, up to 5 minutes for thick slices.
- Chill in cold water to which 4 teaspoons of lemon juice have been added to each 1 gallon of water.
- Drain; pat dry.
- Pack, leaving 1/2 inch of headroom.
- Seal; freeze.
Our Top 10 Eggplant Recipes
in no particular order…