It’s purple. It’s spongy. It’s weird. But it can also be
delicious, taking on the flavors of whatever it’s cooked in and imparting a
buttery richness. Or, if prepared poorly, it can become an inedible rubbery
mess. I have to admit, I’m a bit of a latecomer to eggplant. I don’t recall
ever seeing it on my kitchen table growing up and the only time I ventured to
try it in early adulthood left me questioning why anyone would purchase such a
chewy and bitterly bland vegetable (or fruit in the same way a tomato is if you
care to get technical) when there are perfectly wonderful zucchini that could be
eaten instead. It wasn’t until I really got into Mediterranean cooking that I
began to understand how truly irreplaceable eggplant is, both in texture and
flavor as well as in nutrition. I get it, eggplant can be an intimidating
vegetable but successfully mastering it, as I discovered, will broaden your
culinary repertoire and open doors through its creative use. Eggplants are at
their most delicious now through the end of the month so put any reservations
aside and read on for tips to add some purple to your meals.
Nutritionally, eggplants are often regarded as a superfood
despite not containing large amounts of any vitamins or minerals. They are a
good source of fiber but fiber alone does not a superfood make. Eggplant’s
superfood status is due primarily to two antioxidants, anthocyanins
(responsible for the eggplant’s purple color) and chlorogenic acid. Among the
most promising health benefits attributed to eggplant are cognitive (due to a
unique anthocyanin found only in eggplant), cardiovascular, and anti-diabetic
effects. Beyond basic nutrition, eggplant is often used as a meat replacement
by vegetarians due to its meaty texture (protein is lacking though so be sure
to add high-protein foods to balance your meal) and also works as a low carb
substitute in recipes like eggplant parmesan. Eggplant is a versatile
ingredient that can be a subtle player in dishes like ratatouille or take
center stage like in stuffed eggplant. It functions in a range of recipes from
sides to entrees and appetizers to desserts.
Picking an Eggplant
Eggplants can be rather unforgiving. Picking the wrong one
can ruin an entire recipe. When an eggplant become overripe, it becomes
increasingly bitter tasting and develops an unpleasantly spongy consistency.
Barely ripe or slightly immature eggplants are best. When picking an eggplant,
look for smooth, glossy skin with no wrinkles and one that’s heavy for its size.
As eggplants become overripe, their skin becomes dull. Avoid eggplants with blackspots
or indentations which may indicate damage under the skin. When you press on an eggplant,
you should see an indentation that bounces back quickly. If there’s no visible indentation,
it’s under-ripe. If the indentation stays, it’s overripe. When slicing, you’ll
also know if your eggplant is past its prime if the seeds are large and dark.
Eggplants do best at fifty degrees if you have a cool cellar. Your fridge or
pantry work if you don’t but enjoy your eggplant within a few days.
To Salt or Not
Salting, often called sweating, is a process that draws
excess moisture from the eggplant. If you have an older eggplant or
particularly bitter variety, it can also help cut down on the bitterness. Salting
never hurts and in some cases can help avoid a soggy mess. It is typically done
during the initial preparation phases immediately after slicing the eggplant. There
are two basic methods to salting:
Slice eggplant and generously salt it. Leave it
in a colander in the sink for one to two hours to allow water to seep out and
drain. Once complete, rinse eggplant to remove water and excess salt. Pat dry
with paper towel.
Lay eggplant in a single layer on a paper towel.
Sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for thirty minutes. With another paper
towel, gently press the eggplant to squeeze out any remaining water and remove
the excess salt on top. A variation of this method involves layering the
eggplant in rows with paper towels between each and placing a pot or other
similar tool on top for the entire thirty minutes to press out water.
You can usually skip the salting step without affecting the
final product too much if you’re pressed for time. If you run into problems
with soggy eggplant, salting is a good fix. Salting, especially the second
method involving physically pressing the eggplant, is more important in fried
dishes since it can significantly reduce the amount of oil eggplant absorbs.
Just Getting Started
New to eggplant? Start by perfecting roasted, grilled, and
fried eggplant. Many recipes like eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, and baba
ganoush require that you cook the eggplant first. Perfecting this initial step
will make all the difference when you take a stab at these recipes.
To roast, simply cut eggplant into half inch
rounds or slices and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush with oil
and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brushing with a basting brush or even
lightly oiled fingers is preferred. Avoid drizzling or tossing with oil because
eggplant soaks up oil quickly so you’ll have some spots with too much oil and
others with too little. Roast at 500° for fifteen minutes turning half way
through. Be sure to keep eggplant in a single layer and flip half way to avoid
For grilling, slice eggplant, brush with oil,
and salt and pepper as you did with roasted. Toss on the grill for five minutes
Fried eggplant can either be half inch slices or
one inch cubes. The key to fried eggplant is a good batter to keep the eggplant
from absorbing too much oil (salting can definitely help as noted above). Dip
your slices or cubes in egg or an egg and milk combination then lightly toss in
panko breadcrumbs with parmesan and herbs. Heat a few tablespoons of high heat
oil in a pan until hot. To test you can put a drop (only a very small drop
unless you want oil everywhere) of water in the oil. If it sputters
immediately, the oil’s ready. Fry your eggplant in batches for two to three
minutes each side and transfer to a plate covered in a paper towel to absorb
Once you’ve perfected roasting, grilling, and frying along
with basic Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Indian dishes, the fun begins. Get
creative. Incorporate eggplant into soups, stir fries, salads, sandwiches,
tacos, chili…there’s no limit to the dishes eggplant can be used in. Even in
baking, much like applesauce, eggplant can add moisture to cakes and brownies.
If you want to dabble in vegan or vegetarian fare (even if it’s just for
meatless Monday), try pureed roasted eggplant as a substitute for cheese in
your favorite queso dips, make eggplant steaks or burgers, or fry up thin
strips as a bacon substitute.
Enjoy eggplant as the main dish by stuffing it with quinoa and veggies for health-filled dinner.
1 purple onion, diced
1 tbs. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
Pinch of salt and pepper
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with foil, cut the eggplant in half, and oil the inside and outside of the eggplant. After oiling, salt and pepper the inside of the eggplant. Bake the eggplant for 15 minutes or until tender.
In a medium sized pan, saute the diced purple onion until soft, add the garlic. Once the garlic is fragrant, add the quinoa and tomatoes.
Remove the eggplants from the oven and stuff with quinoa mixture. Bake for another 15 minutes.
Say hello to this gourd-geous dish and make this for your next weeknight meal. This simple but luxurious meal is ready to bring your favorite Fall flavors right to the dinner table.
1 bag pumpkin gnocchi
1 stick un-salted Food Club® butter
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
10 sage leaves, thinly sliced
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Add the pumpkin gnocchi and boil according to instructions.
While gnocchi is boiling, melt butter in a small sauce pan and add sliced sage. Consistently stir until it turns a golden brown color. Remove from heat and strain. Toss fresh pumpkin gnocchi with butter sauce, top with Parmesan and enjoy!
Fall in love with these seasonal fruits and veggies that are perfectly ripe during the month of October. Though you can enjoy these on their own, keep your eye out for upcoming recipes incorporating you favorite fall flavors and these fresh produce items.
Did you know that Cauliflower is one of the healthiest plants in the world? To enjoy this ultra healthy food, eat it with veggie dip or puree it into soup.
Eggplants are a great source of fiber, vitamin C, and a variety of minerals. Though we normally see them in a beautiful plum color, they also come in white and pink varieties.
The pear is a west coast exclusive that is low in calorie and is full of vitamin C. Enjoy these in tarts and fresh off the tree all Fall long.