Are you still swooning over summer’s abundance of fresh bounty at your farmers’ market?
One of our favorites just made its seasonal debut, and luckily, this versatile fruit will keep us busy in the kitchen right into autumn. When it comes to August aubergines, we’re all in.
Wait, a fruit?!
Yep. Aubergines, more commonly known as eggplants, are part of the allusive nightshade family, just like tomatoes and potatoes. They’re usually cooked just like and alongside other hearty veggies but indeed are technically fruits.
What’s up with all the different kinds?
There’s no need to succumb to the waxy, puffy purple bulbs that you can get year round at your supermarket – head out (if you haven’t already) to the local farmers’ market and see the different types flourishing right now.
Need some help navigating ‘em? No prob. Here is a quick rundown of some varieties:
- American Eggplants: Otherwise known as globe eggplants, are the familiar round dark purple ones you’re bound to encounter at your market. They can grow up to 12 inches long but keep in mind that usually the smaller the eggplant, the sweeter it will be.
- Oriental Eggplants: These guys are typically long and slender (although can vary in shape). Japanese eggplants boast a glossy dark purple coat whilst Chinese ones are a brighter violet. Their flavor is relatively mild and they’re often cooked with their thin skin on in stir-fries (the spongy texture soaks up soy, ginger or miso super well) or are delish when stuffed and baked. They’re growing ever more popular these days, particularly since they have thin skin and fewer seeds – hence are less bitter – than other varieties.
- Indian Eggplants: This kind is tender and sweet and is usually a reddish-purple color with a round, small shape. They are typically used in classic vegetarian curries.
- White Eggplants: So where do ya think the eggplant got its name? Yep, this kind! And they do indeed look like large, white – you guessed it – eggs. They have a tough skin with a fantastic, fleshy white, sweet interior and hold up particularly well on the grill.
- Italian: This is the variety you likely picture when you think of your standard eggplant. They’re nice and plump, beautifully purple and are also perfect on the summer grill (tips on grilling ‘em below) like globes. They’ll give you a lot of creamy flesh to work with – perfect for a Baba Ganoush dip to enjoy in the backyard.
- Grafitti: This uniquely violet and ivory striped variety has a pretty similar earthy taste and meaty texture to your standard Italian one and can be used in the same ways as them when cooking, too. Try them in this Imam Bayeldi recipe!
How should I pick?
As always, ask the vendor at the farmers’ market for their advice. In general, go with blemish-free, smooth, firm eggplants that are heavy for their size (regardless of variety). For your typical globe eggplants, give them a knock before buying – it should be solid and not sound hollow.
Then, give it a gentle squeeze – an eggplant that has a little give when pushed on but then springs back means it’s ripe (versus one that remains dented). Note that overripe eggplants are much bitter in taste and can be super spongy (overly so) inside!
Stuffed, grilled, roasted, baked…ay, there are so many great ways to enjoy this fruit, so don’t be afraid to get creative! Just keep in mind no matter which method you use that the texture is super meaty and it soaks sauces, liquids and spices up very easily. In most cases, you can swap in eggplants instead of Portobello mushrooms, zucchini or okra.
Here are some top tips:
Roasting: Typically you’ll roast eggplant whole before you whip it into a dip. We recommend jabbing a fork into it several times to let it breathe before roasting (skin on). Kosher Like Me Contributor Melissa Roberts advises to first “score the flesh in a crosshatch pattern, then to coat with oil. This cut allows the flesh to soak up the oil all the way through, and with eggplant you always need way more than you think [as] it’s such an ‘oil sponge’.
Grillin’: The same crosshatch tip for prepping eggplants for grilling is the same as for roasting, according to Melissa. Skin on or off is your choice (we prefer it on, but sometimes it can get a bit tough). After slicing, brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil and season before putting it on the grill. It should only take 3-4 minutes on each side for it to get slightly browned. Then, wrap in tin foil to let them finish cooking all the way through.
To salt or not to salt?
Traditionally, cooks sprinkle salt on their sliced eggplants and “sweat” them in a colander to draw out bitterness before cooking. Today, everyone seems to have their own opinion, so we consulted with Melissa who says she hasn’t “noticed any pronounced benefits from salting other than the downside of rinsing, squeezing and drying salted eggplant.”
And since you’re like going to be seasoning your eggplant in one way or another when cooking here’s what we think:
Don’t sweat it!
Eggplants do not like the cold – so it’s best to keep your freshly bought ones at room temperature to avoid damage to its texture and flavor. Did you overload on eggplants at the market? Save some for later! f you need to pop some in your freezer, blanch slices for a few minutes and let cook. Then pop in freezer bags after wrapping loosely in wax paper and in the freezer they go.
What else should I know?
Like we said, don’t be afraid to get creative when it comes to cooking eggplant.
Melissa let us know about her fantastic Eggplant Tarte Tartin with Black Pepper Caramel recipe, which is a super way to incorporate this fruit into a sweet and savory dessert! They also are fantastic paired with some of our favorite spices including garlic, cumin, harissa and much more.
Check out Leticia Schwartz‘ Moroccan Eggplant Salad below. With eggplant in season from now through late September, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy this one!
This eggplant salad melds Middle Eastern flavors with the summer's best eggplant and tomatoes. It is best prepared a day or two before serving.
Thank you Leticia Schwartz, the Brazilian Foodie, for this recipe.
This salad is pareve (dairy-free), vegan, gluten-free
- 2 medium eggplants, about ¾ lb each
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
- 1 lb tomatoes, peeled, halved, seeded and chopped
- Tiny pinch sugar
- ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 red pepper, seeded, peeled and chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Center a rack in the middle of the oven. Pre-heat oven at 375 degrees farenheit.
- Halve each eggplant lengthwise.
- Brush the flesh with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place them cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil.
- Roast until tender, and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, peel while stil hot and allow the flesh to drain in a colander over a bowl. Discard the dripping juices.
- Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium nonstick pan over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and cook until it just starts to turn golden, about 1 minute.
- Add the tomatoes, sugar, cumin, paprika, cayenne, and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes.
- Chop the eggplant roughly and add to the skillet; continue cooking, stirring often, until thick, about 10 to 15 minutes more.
- Transfer to a bowl and stir in the red pepper, capers, cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice to taste. Let it cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Return the salad to room temperature and toss with the remaining olive oil before serving
This salad makes a tasty chilled or room temp appetizer alongside other Middle Eastern dishes. Consider serving it with hummus and chopped vegetable salad with feta cheese.
Or consider serving it as a companion to grilled fish or chicken, with a simple grain like brown rice, quinoa or freekah. This salad has plenty of flavors to season any prepared grains.