Eggplant is in the nightshade family (which includes tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers). There are many types of eggplant which vary in color, shape, and size. The most common are smooth, purple-skinned eggplants, though thinner Asian eggplants are increasing in popularity. Eggplant varieties are generally interchangeable in recipes. Eggplant likely originated in India or Burma. It is a heat-loving plant, and thrives during the summer heat. Eggplant is a low calorie, high fiber vegetable.
Eggplant is best fresh, but will store unrefrigerated at a cool room temperature or in the hydrator drawer of the refrigerator for up to a week. For longer-term storage, eggplant cooked in dishes like ratatouille or baba ghanoush store well frozen in airtight containers.
Eggplant can be peeled but does not have to be. To remove excess moisture, lightly salt eggplant slices and let sit in a colander for 10-15 minutes; then gently squeeze out any remaining liquid (eggplant will soak up less oil when cooked and will need less salt when prepared in a dish). Eggplant should be eaten cooked to eliminate a substance called solanine.
Eggplant can be eaten:
- Baked: Prick eggplant all over with a fork and bake at 400°F until flesh is tender (about 30-40 minutes). Flesh can be pureed.
- Stuffed: Bake for 20 minutes, scoop out seeds, replace with a stuffing, and return to oven for 15 minutes.
- Sautéed: Dip slices or chunks in flour or eggs and bread crumbs prior to sautéing. Sauté in hot oil until light brown. Season with herbs, garlic, grated cheese, etc.
- Steamed: Whole eggplant will steam over an inch of water in 15-30 minutes, depending on size.
Cooked eggplant can be blended with lemon juice and spices to make a dip or spread. It is also great grilled, either alone or in conjunction with other veggies such as peppers on shish kabobs.
Curried Eggplant with Coconut Milk
1 ½ - 2 pounds eggplant
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon curry paste, curry powder, or garam masala
1 cup coconut milk
5 fresh Thai basil leaves (optional)
If skin is thick, peel the eggplant; cut into ½-inch cubes and salt them if the eggplant is large (to extract water and make crispier). Put oil, garlic, ginger, and curry paste/curry powder/garam masala in a large skillet over medium heat. After two minutes, add the eggplant. Stir and toss until the eggplant starts to release some of the oil it has absorbed (5-10 minutes). After the eggplant begins to get tender, stir in a cup of coconut milk (and basil, if using) and cook until very soft (about 15 minutes). Taste and adjust the seasoning, garnish with cilantro or mint (optional), and serve.
(Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman.)
Eggplant Basil Sandwiches
1 firm, slim medium eggplant, peeled and cut crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices (about 4 cups or 20-24 slices)
1 package (8 ounces) light cream cheese, softened
½ cup minced fresh basil
¾ cup soft bread crumbs
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large eggs
Vegetable oil (for cooking eggplant)
Lightly salt eggplant slices. Place in colander and weight slices with a heavy pot; let stand for at least 30 minutes. Rinse eggplant with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Blend cream cheese and basil in small bowl until smooth. Combine bread crumbs, ¾ teaspoon salt, and cayenne pepper on sheet of wax paper. Crack eggs into a shallow dish and froth with a fork. Spread about 2 teaspoons herbed cheese onto eggplant slices, adjusting for size. Make sandwiches with the slices. Dip sandwiches in eggs and then in crumbs until well coated. Heat oil to 1/8-inch depth in large skillet over medium heat. When hot, fry sandwiches, in batches to avoid crowding, until crisp and golden on both sides (about 3 minutes each side). Serve warm. These pair well with a thick tomato sauce. (Recipe contributed by Abby Mandel from her book, Celebrating the Midwestern Table, in From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce (Third Edition).)
½ onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 cup tomato puree
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small eggplant
1 smallish zucchini
1 smallish yellow squash
1 longish red bell pepper
Few sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Few tablespoons soft goat cheese, for serving (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Pour tomato puree into bottom of a baking dish. Add garlic and onion to the sauce, stir in one tablespoon of olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Trim ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. Carefully trim ends off the red pepper and remove the core while leaving the edges intact like a tube. Cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper into very thin slices (approximately 1/16-inch thick). On top of the tomato sauce, arrange the vegetable slices concentrically from the outer edge to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping such that just a small amount of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the vegetables, and season with salt and pepper. Remove leaves from the thyme sprigs and sprinkle over the dish. Cover dish with aluminum foil. Bake for approximately 45-55 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are cooked but not limp. The tomato sauce should be bubbling up around the vegetables. Serve with a dab of goat cheese on top, alone, or with some crusty bread, atop polenta, couscous, or your choice of grain. (Recipe from the Smitten Kitchen blog.)
2 medium eggplants (about 3 lbs. total), roasted
1/3 cup tahini
3 roasted garlic cloves (or 1 clove raw garlic, crushed)
2 fresh lemons, juiced
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
To roast eggplant in the oven, preheat the broiler to the hottest setting. Wash and dry eggplant, slice in half, and place flesh-side down on a baking sheet lightly greased with olive oil. Roast for 15-30 minutes until halves are charred and starting to collapse. Remove from oven, scoop out the roasted flesh, and place in a bowl with some of the smoky roasting liquid; discard the skin. Let eggplant cool to room temperature, then add tahini, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, salt, cayenne pepper and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Mash the mixture together with a fork or spoon until combined, and taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Drizzle the surface of the dip lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with paprika and parsley to garnish. Serve as a dip with pita bread, crackers, or chips. (Recipe source here.)