Oh, eggplant, you voluptuous vegetable. Short, long, round, narrow, and of course, the classically big-bottomed, you come in so many shapes. But you also come in so many colors. Some eggplants are deep and aubergine, a purple so dark it’s black like a Sicilian man’s eyes, beckoning me. Some are playfully striated like a tiger cub. Oh, eggplant, you shape-shifter, you color-spectrum challenger, you world-traveller, you meal-maker, you. Do I love eggplant? Yes, indeed.
Now, eggplants are all lovely to look at and lovely to behold, but cooking them is when they get to truly show their stuff. From this true lover of eggplant, here are five ways to help you fall in love with it this season.
1. Salt it first and thank me later.
I am an eggplant-salter. I slice eggplant — skin off, unless it is weirdly thin-skinned for some reason — and place it in a single layer on cooling racks set over a rimmed baking sheet and coat it with salt. I allow it to sit for about 15 minutes until the brown liquid comes out, then I wash them off and pat them dry very well with paper towels. The idea of salting is to draw out any bitterness. I am told that eggplants are now bred to have no bitterness, but I have still, recently, had some that are. Life may have bitter edges, but I don’t want that in my eggplant. Think of salting as insurance that your dish with be delicious every single time.
2. Roast eggplant long and slow.
Eggplants are often roasted whole or halved with delicious results. The delicate flesh, creamy and fine, can be scooped out and added to tahini for luscious baba ghanoush, stirred into other generously roasted vegetables for a roasted eggplant caviar, or bathed in sweet, salty miso. Try roasting a halved eggplant, drizzling with tahini and pomegranate molasses, and serving with yogurt and fresh herbs as a luxurious entrée. One kitchen tip: Make sure to poke the eggplant with a fork very well before you cook it. I often cover it with foil while cooking as well. Roasting’s allure is taste, no doubt, but its ease is undeniably compelling.
Get a Recipe: Stuffed Eggplants with Herbed Bulgur
3. Pair eggplant with tomatoes as often as you can.
Tomatoes and eggplant are a classic combo, and for good reason. Tomatoes are tart, sweet, and juicy; eggplant can’t wait to soak it up, and together they offer countless opportunities to freestyle to create something new.
You don’t even need a formal recipe to do it: Start the stew with classic aromatics: onions, celery, carrots. Add some sweet bell peppers — New Orleans-style or hot peppers — then add salt and pepper and maybe a dash of your favorite hot sauce and cook, stirring, over high heat. Add plenty of fresh grated tomatoes, cubed (pre-salted) eggplant, and lower the heat to low. Cover and let it cook down until everything is soft, about 10 minutes. From pole beans and peeled kohlrabi to fennel to okra, use up those veggies. Cook until the eggplant is completely soft and the other vegetables are tender-crisp. Add a handful of chopped basil and parsley, or try a little mint or tarragon. Stir, taste for salt and pepper, and away you go. I serve it with quinoa, couscous, steamed rice, or orzo alongside some extra herbs and hot sauces.
Get a Recipe: Slow-Cooker Ratatouille
4. Serve it hot or cold.
Eggplant is crazy-versatile to serve. It is tolerant and gentle, so it doesn’t mind being served hot, cold, or at room temperature. How accommodating. Hot soup? Sure. Cooked eggplant adds thickness and texture. It’s easy to add to almost any soup or stew since it plays well with the flavors of so many places in the world, from a summer minestrone to miso soup. I kid you not, you can even add it to clam chowders. Cold is also awesome as well. Try it tossed in a peanut satay sauce over noodles. Caponata is a classic summer eggplant dish from Southern Italy that I make many times every year.
Get a Recipe: Eggplant Caponata Sandwiches with Mozzarella & Basil
5. Fry eggplant anew.
Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside isn’t just for chicken. No reason to be tired of the ol’ fried eggplant either. How about adding chickpea flour to the regular wheat flour? Or some spelt or rye flour? Eggplants can stand up to it, and it will feel new again.
Get a Recipe: Baked Eggplant Fries (Try frying instead of baking and watch them crisp!)