Make the Most of Garden-Fresh Eggplant!
We are in the midst of eggplant season (July through October), so you may have noticed a variety of them at the grocery store and at your local farmers’ market. Colors range from stark white Caspers to deep purple Black Beauties, with lavender and stripes in between. Some are oval, and others, such as Asian eggplants, are long and skinny.
Most of these varieties can be used in similar ways in the kitchen. However, there is some controversy surrounding their preparation. If you’ve ever made an eggplant dish, it’s likely at least one of these questions has crossed your mind: Should I peel it? Which variety should I use and when? Do I need to salt it? How do I avoid that bitter taste?
Oversized eggplants with thick skins generally should be peeled, but you can leave the skin on young, small ones, such as Asian, Casper, and Rosa Bianca varieties. The skin holds the flesh together when you’re grilling or baking eggplant and can always be removed later. Peeling really depends on whether you mind the texture of peel in your food.
Salting eggplant extracts water from the flesh and makes it less absorbent. This is critical for anyone who has ever sautéed eggplant in oil and watched it soak it all up in seconds. Salting may also reduce bitterness. There’s less of a need to salt eggplant fresh from the garden or from the farmers’ market, but we recommend salting the big ones from the grocery store because they’ve been kept in cold storage for a while, losing their natural sweet flavor as they age.
Eggplant is the traditional star of many Mediterranean dishes (Greek moussaka, French ratatouille, Italian eggplant parmigiana, Middle Eastern baba ghanoush or mutabal), and is an excellent substitute for meat in vegetarian dishes because of its sweet, earthy flavor and substantial texture. Before we get to our 12 ways to prepare them, here are a few fun facts about eggplant:
- Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes, peppers, chiles, and potatoes. Because some other nightshades (the family also includes morning glory seeds and tobacco) can cause joint pain, hallucinations, and nausea, many people were wary of these now-familiar foods when they first appeared from foreign lands.
- In British English, eggplants are called aubergines, from the French aubergine and Catalan albergínia. The name eggplant comes from early varieties that were small, white, and egg-shaped.
- Eggplant is a tropical plant that originated in India. The first written record of it is found in an ancient Chinese agricultural treaty completed in 544 A.D.
- Pea eggplants (they look the way they sound) are used whole in African and Asian cooking. They are especially popular in Thai curries.
- Victorians admired the eggplant’s distinctive shape and vibrant color so much that they used it as an ornamental plant. They also used it for this purpose because they thought it was a poisonous nightshade.
So grab yourself a basketful of eggplant and try our easy and delicious 12 Great Ways to Use Eggplant.
~ Lara Bertoia, Mediterranean Foods Alliance