Falling for Eggplant Dishes

Cooking and preparing eggplant, including recipes for sandwiches, roasted rataoullie, spicy eggplant salad, chicken sukiyaki with eggplant.


| August/September 1994



145 eggplant dishes 1

Marketing associate Lisa Furlong digs into chicken sukiyaki with eggplant, one of our four favorite eggplant dishes.

PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

When I spot a beautiful purple eggplant in the garden, glistening with dew and ready for picking, I occasionally recall a memorable eggplant moment. I remember sitting in an outdoor Greek cafe on the Mediterranean, dining on Greek-style eggplant and lamb. Or the time my husband and I munched on grilled eggplant sandwiches as we toured Rome on foot. Eggplant seemed to taste even more delicious on foreign soil. But for now I'm standing in the midst of our Chicago garden next to numerous eggplants that must be picked and prepared.

It's the preparation part that scares some people away from eggplant (not to mention a somewhat challenging name). After all, it isn't the type of vegetable that one could pick and eat raw or pop into the freezer. It's best eaten freshly prepared, preferably in season but also occasionally during the winter months. Although eggplant isn't high in any single nutrient, it contains lots of fiber that makes it very filling and gives a "meaty" texture to vegetarian dishes. By itself eggplant is low in fat and contains few calories. The reason it has such a greasy reputation is because frying it results in the porous eggplant soaking up the oil like a sponge. Lower-in-fat options would be grilling or broiling, baking, steaming, or simmering in sauces. But eggplant hasn't always been so edible. Centuries ago it was shunned because it was believed that consuming eggplant would cause temporary insanity. When my husband discovered this fun fact, he decided to attribute my bizarre personality traits to my frequent eggplant feasts.

Selecting Eggplant

There are numerous summer varieties to choose from. The dark purple globular is the most common variety sold. The Japanese eggplant is purple or white with its shape similar to a small zucchini. The Chinese eggplant is the same shape but is a light violet color. There is also the round or oval Italian (Rosa Biancos) eggplant that is white or purple in color. Rumor has it that the small oval white eggplant (which resembled eggs) were how the eggplant got its name.

Choose shiny firm eggplants that are free of bruises or tan patches that indicate decay. If you press the skin with your thumb, the indentation will spring back if it's fresh. A good eggplant should feel fairly heavy; a light one may be tough. Small eggplants have thinner skins, fewer seeds, and tend to be sweeter and more tender. Larger ones work well for dishes that require peeled or sliced eggplant. You can store eggplant at room temperature for a few days or it can be refrigerated for a week or so.

There's been some talk lately of how to determine the sex of an eggplant by the quantity of seeds. (Do we care?) This is a fallacy because the eggplant is self-pollinating, meaning it has both male and female characteristics and can reproduce on its own.

Preparing Eggplant

If the eggplant is large, you may want to peel off the skin, which might be tough. Otherwise peeling is a matter of personal preference. Many recipes call for salting the eggplant and letting it sit for about half an hour before cooking. This step draws out some of the water, consequently producing a denser texture so it will absorb less fat. The salt also draws out some of the toxic solanine that's present in some nightshade vegetables. If you do salt the eggplant, make sure you rinse it under cold water and pat dry before cooking. Unlike many vegetables, eggplant is not really harmed by overcooking, whereas under cooking results in a chewy, bitter flavor.





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