Wednesday, August 12

Eggplant 101: How to Select, Store, and Cook Them


Of all the fabulous and quirky names out there such as aubergine, brinjal, melanzane, and egg apple, we had to go with "eggplant." It's such a dull name to describe such a singular vegetable. (Botanically, it's a fruit, but we all use it as a vegetable, so let's go with that.)

Why "eggplant"? Apparently some 18th century European cultivars resembled goose or hen's eggs, so planters called them "eggplants."

Eggplants have a long history. They are native to India where they were first cultivated over 4,000 years ago. During the Middle Ages Arabs introduced eggplant to the Mediterranean region. Eventually European explorers introduced eggplant to places such as Africa and North America. Today China, India, and Egypt are the world's leading producers of eggplant.

Eggplants are available year-round in most major supermarkets, but they are best during August-October, their prime growing season. So here are some tips on how to select, store, and cook with eggplant:

How do you select eggplant?
  • Look for glossy, richly colored skin that is free of dimples and bruises. Pick it up. It should be firm and heavy for its size. Gently squeeze it; it should give slightly. Avoid either rock hard or squishy eggplants.
How do you store eggplant?
  • Store unwashed, uncut eggplant in the crisper drawer for up to 2-3 days. Once you cut the eggplant, the flesh will begin to oxidize, or turn brown. That's okay. It's not bad, just not pretty. If, however, you cut into the eggplant, and it's already streaked with brown, or the seeds are blackened, then toss it. It's old.
How do you prepare and cook eggplant?
  • Rinse the eggplant with water, and cut off the green top. Use a very sharp knife; otherwise, the rubbery skin will make slicing difficult.
  • Many people swear by "sweating" raw eggplant before cooking it; that is, sprinkling it with salt and letting it rest for 30 minutes, to remove the bitterness. I have done it and have never noticed any significant difference. To me, it's more important to by a fresh eggplant.
  • Eggplant can be steamed, sauteed, roasted, broiled, baked, or grilled.
What are the health benefits of eating eggplant?
  • 1 cup of eggplant is only 27 calories and is a very good source of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, and vitamins B1 and B6.
What can you do with eggplant?
eggplant napolean

Of all the cooking methods, grilling may be the kindest to eggplant. The intense heat lightly chars the outside of the eggplant, lending it an irresistible smokiness, yet keeping the flesh deliciously tender and creamy. These Grilled Eggplant Napoleons are ideal for a dinner party -- they're a breeze to make yet make a grand impression.

Grilled Eggplant Napoleons
Makes 4 servings
Print recipe only here.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
a generous sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 medium eggplant, sliced into 3/4-inch rounds, about 20 slices total
1-2 tablespoons olive oil for brushing eggplant
a generous sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large beefsteak tomatoes (or large heirloom tomatoes), sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
1 small bunch of fresh basil
8-10 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds

1. Whisk all dressing ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.

2. Preheat grill to medium high.

3. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place on a hot grill that has been lightly oiled. Grill eggplant for 5-7 minutes per side, or until tender and lightly charred.

4. To assemble stacks, start by placing an eggplant slice on a plate. Top with a slice of cheese, then tomato, then basil. Repeat one more time. End with a slice of eggplant. Repeat with remaining ingredients until 4 stacks are made. Drizzle with dressing, and serve immediately.

Drizzle with basil pesto.
Substitute arugula for basil.
Add slices of roasted red pepper.
Add olive tapenade in between layers.

You might also enjoy these Mediterranean dishes:

Roasted Asparagus with Breadcrumbs and Parmesan

Mediterranean Wheatberry Salad with Lentils and Chickpeas

String Beans with Prosciutto, Pine Nuts, and Meyer Lemon

For even more delicious eggplant recipes, check out my article on Foodie View: "Every Kitchen Needs Some Black Magic: Cooking With Eggplant."


Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said...

I often have a love/hate relationship with them...but I do enjoy them most of the time! The Napoleons look really easy and delicious!

Kate said...

Beautiful recipe! I am loving grilled eggplant this summer and am consuming mass quantities- this looks so good that it may have to be my next option.

Sarah Murphy-Kangas said...

Yum! I've found out there are a lot of eggplant avoiders out there. I am definitely not one of them. One of my favorite ways with eggplant is to roast it in the oven with lots of olive oil and garlic. Then I toss it with pasta, cream, and tomatoes.

Stephanie Appleton said...

those are next to ripen in my garden. We have white ones this year.

ali @ gimmesomeoven said...

These look gorgeous - and delicious as well. :) Great article!

Cate said...

Perfect timing! I've noticed a lot more eggplants in the store lately and have been using them quite a bit. Just yesterday I made a spinach salad with roasted eggplants and miso dressing and it was awesome.

Anh said...

The photos are so pretty, Susan! All the tips are nice, too. I always love eggplants, but sometimes they do not love me (when I fried them). Lovely and easy recipe!

chris said...

I love that this is so easy and so beautiful! I'm having guests for dinner next week and this is going to be our first course! Thanks, Susan!

The Food Hunter said...

I love eggplant. This is a great recipe. thanks

Soma said...

Thank God for eggplants! :-D Lovely "top" shot! Unusual..

Nanette said...

Your photography is so beautiful (and mouthwatering!). I love the Napoleon idea - this week I made Fine Cooking's wonderful recipe for roasted ratatouille that used up all my CSA eggplant.

Anonymous said...

I love eggplants. Your napoleon sounds delicious. I may have to give that a try.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh... I've had eggplant on the brain this week thanks to a question from a friend. I think it's time I get to work! :)

Simona Carini said...

I just finished eating some roasted eggplant spread. I love melanzane. Your recipe looks delicious!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Great eggplant primer! I'm partial to the thin Asian eggplant, as it has almost no seeds.

michelle @ Find Your Balance said...

I ADORE eggplant. My italian grandmother always swore by choosing the "male" eggplants over the "female." The males are longer and thinner in shape, the females more round and supposedly full of more eggs with a more bitter flavor. Have you ever heard of this? I'm not sure what to think but she was a smart lady...

I'll also add that for some people, nightshade vegetables like eggplant can sadly be inflammatory and often linked to arthritis.

Manggy said...

Alton Brown also said something about the navel at the bottom determining if it's going to be bitter :) Love the "napoleon"-- very chic! :)

Xiaolu said...

Thanks for the great info! I must admit I've been guilty of using old eggplant many a time. It helps to buy the thin Asian variety though - seems to be less bitter/seedy. Also, I just bookmarked your eggplant parm recipe - thank you for posting a healthier option.

Sig said...

Growing up this was a vegetable I hated, but I learned to love it eventually. My favorite eggplant recipe is the shrimp stuffed ones served in dim sum restaurants. :)

Recipe4Living said...

What a beautiful preparation of eggplant! We would love to have this recipe on!

We Are Not Martha said...

Fabulous advice!! I always say I want to cook with eggplant more and this might be just the motivation I need!!


Aparna Balasubramanian said...

We love this vegetable and cook it in many different ways too. It's a veggie that's never really got its due, I think so nice to see it "featured" here. :)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

peterg-For me, it was love at first bite.

kate-"Mass quantities," huh? Smart girl. ;)

theleftoverist-Mmm... I'll have a plate of that, please!

stephanie-Ooh, the white ones are so lovely!

ali-Thank you so much!

cate-Oh, that salad does indeed sound awesome!

anh-That's why grilled and baked versions can be gentler on your tummy. :)

chris-Yay! I'm happy to hear it!

foodhunter-I'm so glad you like it.

soma-Thanks. Eggplants aren't that easy to shoot!

nanette-I really appreciate that. Thank you! And ratatouille sounds perfect. I've gotta make some now. Thanks!

sliceofsueshe-Hope you do!

culinography-That's the kind of work I crave!

simona-Great minds.... :)

lydia-I love them with a soy sauce and ginger glaze.

michelle-No, I hadn't heard that. But who am I to argue with an Italian Nonna? :)

mark-He's such a smarty pants. ;)

xiaolu-You're so welcome! And thank you for the post.

sig-What's not to love about dim sum? Mmm....

recipe4living-Well, thank you kindly!

wanm-Glad to be of assistance!

aparna-I agree. Thanks for the boost!

lisaiscooking said...

That is a gorgeous stack of eggplant, and the cheese is drool-worthy! I like melanzane for its name because that's part of the name of my favorite pizza.

Lori Lynn said...

Thanks for all the tips. Gee, that first photo is fabulous.

nora@ffr said...

eggplants are one of my fav. yummm!! this one sound mighty tasty.. a must make!

Cara of Big Girls, Small Kitchen said...

i have been on SUCH an eggplant craze: grilled, on frittata and in bruschetta

I feel like it gets a bad rap, since it doesn't have tons of nutrients. But it has more than enough redeeming qualities, in my book

Unknown said...

I don't get that there are folks out there that don't like eggplant (called melongene where I am from) It's such a versatile and delicious vegetable. Those stacks are fantastic. I love recipes that look like they came from a fancy restaurant that can be done at home. Thanks for the inspiration

Susan from Food Blogga said...

lisa-Oh, I love that pizza too.

lorilynn-Thanks so much!

mora-It really is a must make!

phoebe and cara-It's easy to get crazy with it, isn't it?

wizzy-You're so welcome! They are really low-maintenance.