RECIPES: Eggplant Curry, Easy Grilled Eggplant, Papa O's Eggplant Parmesan, Babaganoush, Mediterranean Tart, Tuscan Eggplant Pesto, Eggplant and Tomato Gratin, Sautéed Eggplant, Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Packets, Indian Vegetable Stew, Ratatouille, Yogurt and Eggplant Dip
Let’s face it – if Dr. Seuss were responsible for a vegetable, it would have to be the eggplant. And like other things Seuss-ian, they are not just one color or shape.
The English name “eggplant,” is probably derived from the egg shaped variety that happens to be white. Eggplant comes in many colors, ranging from deep purple (hence the name “aubergine”) to lavender to green to white, with some having stripes of rose or green. Shapes range from large pear shaped forms to small globes. There are elongated forms that are straight and wider at the base and some that taper to a point. Some are only an inch or two thick, others are up to four inches. Originally from China and India, eggplant can have a bitterness that is a flavor enjoyed elsewhere than the US and Europe. It is this bitterness that puts many people off here, and prompts people to check the bottoms of eggplant looking for the dimple.
Generally, I find the mildest flavored eggplant to be the Japanese eggplant – slender, dark violet, with a dark purple/black calyx (cap). Next is the Chinese eggplant, which is an amethyst color with green calyx. The Chinese tends to be softer textured than the Japanese as well.
The small Italian and the larger globe eggplant (which is frequently just called “Italian”) are mild flavored, too, although the larger Italian eggplant can be bitter.
The small round eggplants in white, pale green, lavender, dark purple, and the Thai eggplant (which are pale green with darker green patterning) are all increasingly bitter. These eggplants are usually used in Indian and Southeast Asian stews and braises.
Eggplant can be braised, sautéed, broiled, and grilled. It can be pickled or puréed as a spread. Baba Ganoush and ratatouille are two classic eggplant dishes. The slender ones are great for grilling as they cut into nice uniform slices. The bigger eggplants are great for purées, sautés, and baked dishes such as gratins and lasagna, and braised dishes like ratatouille. The smallest ones are for wet dishes like Asian and Indian stews.
How to Select
- When selecting eggplant, look for shiny skin that isn’t wrinkled and firm flesh.
- The calyx should be tight and not shriveled, and avoid those with lots of small spots or those that have brown or bronze colored spots and/or pitting. This is a good indicator the eggplant will be bitter.
- Also, heft several of the same size, and always go with the ones that seem heaviest for their size. The lighter ones tend to be seedier and are breaking down inside and seem to be quite bitter.
- As for the trick for finding the sweeter “male” eggplants? Well, as I know it, look for the ones with the smoothest bottom as supposedly those are the ones with the least seeds. As to whether it works? I am still out on that one.
How to Store
Eggplants are tough to store. Keep them in a plastic bag in the crisper in the middle of everything else, or store them in a plastic tub lined with paper towels.Keep them away from the coldest part of the refrigerator, and try to very use soon after purchase.
We are fortunate to have a good selection of eggplants at market, and this is prime time for them, too. Look for them at Webb's Organics, Netto Farms, and especially K T Farms where they have at least five varieties, and sometimes as many as eight. Other vendors may have them too, depending on time of year.
Next time you’re at the market, grab a few eggplants and experiment. It might be just as much fun as reading a Dr. Seuss book.