Eggplant: The Best Ways to Pick It, Cook It, and Eat It
Among the ranks of divisive vegetables, eggplant is maybe the greatest. The world is full of people puzzled by why this spongy, bitter vegetable shows up in so many places. I used to be one of those people and then I was slowly indoctrinated into how silky, sumptuous, and downright delicious a properly-cooked eggplant can be. Here’s our guide to all things eggplant, from their many varieties, to how to cook them (hello eggplant fries!) and our top 20 eggplant recipes of all.
The Eggplant Top 5
Five eggplant fun reads.
What Does Eggplant Taste Like? (And Can You Eat It Raw?)
Eggplant is a weird little veg. I think a lot of people are confused about what it is and what it tastes like; witness this thread in /NoStupidQuestions at Reddit where some excellent advice is given (like how eggplant is sort of like a texture not a flavor, “like firm tofu”). Eggplant is firm yet spongy; it doesn’t have a gelled, seedy center like cucumber or zucchini; its texture is somewhat one of a kind in Vegetable Land. Eaten alone (or raw) eggplant has little flavor; maybe a mild acidity and green woodiness are what you’ll get. (And no, don’t eat eggplant raw; the very thought is a little icky.) Eggplants requires cooking for sure.
The secret to understanding eggplant is, indeed, to think of it as the tofu of the vegetable world. It is a mild, easily-cooked base for almost any flavor you want to impose on it. It has the structural integrity of a thick cheese so you can layer it in casseroles or cube it up and grill it unlike more delicate vegetables.
But it also really benefits from long cooking. It can soak up oil and spices, and when saturated with deep flavors and then cooked at high heat or long and slow, eggplant behaves like any meat that is good for braising like pork shoulder or oxtail. It gets soft, silky, luxurious, and melting in the mouth. (As this article so persuasively argues; this is such a great read.) The best eggplant in my opinion is silky and pureed into dip, or charred and smoky. It takes on flavors so well, with a texture that is almost unique in the vast world of vegetables.
The One Eggplant Recipe Everyone Should Try First
Eggplant curious, but still a little intimidated? I have the recipe for you. If you’re curious about it, start with baba ghanoush, the smoky eggplant dip that is a close cousin to hummus. In fact, I vastly prefer baba over hummus. It’s lighter, silkier, and smokier (and has fewer calories usually too, if you care about such things).
Baba ghanoush also starts with you roasting a whole eggplant which is a good exercise for eggplant newbies. You’ll see how easy it is, and how that big balloon of a vegetable collapses into soft, spreadable roasted goodness.
- How to make baba ghanoush: Baba Ghanoush
Eggplant Nutrition (Is It Keto-Friendly or Low-Carb?)
Speaking of nutrition, what’s the deal with eggplant’s nutrition? It’s fairly low in calories (25 calories per 100g of vegetable) and yes, it’s relatively low-carb as well, coming in at about 3g of net carbs.
The keto and low-carb eating practices rely on eating lower amounts of net carbs (carbs minus the fiber). Depending on one’s carb budget, eggplant can be a satisfying way to eat nutritiously while following this eating practice.
- More about net carbs here.
Is Eggplant a Fruit?
Like tomatoes, zucchini, avocados, and so many other vegetables, the eggplant is technically and botanically a fruit. (It grows from a flower; it has seeds inside.) But culinarily speaking, it is usually used in savory preparations like other vegetables. It is also quite low in sugar and doesn’t normally taste sweet at all. (This, however, should not stop you from making this amazing honeyed eggplant and polenta cake.)
Types of Eggplant
Part of what I love about eggplant is the many beautiful varieties. I used to think there was only the big, often overgrown and too-bitter purple globe variety, and then I discovered tiny Fairy Tale eggplants and how amazing they are (melting, smoky) when grilled. Now they are part of my garden every summer.
Those globe eggplants are just one variety; after Fairy Tale I also love the small round green ones you find at Thai and Indian groceries; the long, skinny Chinese and Japanese-style eggplants, and the more petite Graffiti eggplant (so pretty).
Here are more eggplant varieties, what they look like, and how they’re used:
How to Choose the Best Eggplant
When you’re looking for a quality eggplant at the grocery store, regardless of the variety, a few things to remember: it should feel heavy for its size, the skin should be shiny, and the stem should be green. It should also be firm, not spongy or mushy. Also, look for smaller eggplants to avoid bitterness.
- More on choosing good eggplants: 5 Things to Look for When Buying Eggplant at the Grocery Store
How to Cut Eggplant
Cutting eggplant is so easy. If you’ve never cut one up, let me tell you right now: You don’t need to worry about peeling it, seeding it, or anything else. Just slice it in rounds or spears as you would a cucumber, zucchini, or squash, discarding any tough stem end. That’s it! No demonstration needed.
One Fabulous Tool for Eggplant
Having said how easy cutting eggplant is, however, I do have to say that eggplant is really amazing when made into noodles. (Seriously, move over zoodles.) The best tool for turning eggplant into noodles is a simple inexpensive julienne peeler. This is the tool that Cara Mangini, author of The Vegetable Butcher, recommended to us for the best vegetable noodles and ribbons.
Do You Have to Salt Eggplant Before Cooking?
Eggplants have a reputation for bitterness: really, a mouth-drying, woody taste that is not very pleasant. Much traditional cooking wisdom says that eggplant should be salted and left to drain for a short period of time before cooking for best flavor and texture.
We had a debate about this here among our editors: one felt that yes, salting produces best texture. Another editor felt strongly that no, modern eggplants are bred to be less bitter so salting is unnecessary. And the third wild card here is the editor who staunchly believes that microwaving the eggplant before cooking is the best option of all.
Read the back and forth here, but first, we say: do what you think is best. There isn’t a hard and fast rule, and most importantly: If time to salt an eggplant is holding you back from trying a recipe, skip it!
The Best Ways to Cook Eggplant
Here are the most essential ways to cook an eggplant, from roasting it whole to turning it into delicious baked fries.
Can You Freeze Eggplant?
Yes! Freezing eggplant is a great way to preserve it for up to a year. Depending on how you want to use it later, you can freeze baked slices (use later in sandwiches or casseroles) or puree (use later in sauces or dips). Here are more details on how to freeze and thaw eggplant:
The Best Ways to Use Up Leftover Eggplant
Have some leftover eggplant that you need to use up fast? We recommend roasting it immediately and throw it into pretty much any sauce or soup. Or, if you need some fresh inspiration try one of these:
- Eggplants Are Coming! Here Are 15 Ways to Make Them for Dinner.
- 12 Eggplant Recipes That Prove There Is Life Beyond Eggplant Parm
Our Top 20 Eggplant Recipes
- How To Bake Eggplant Fries
- Ina Garten’s Roasted Eggplant Parmesan
- Stuffed Eggplant Parm
- How To Make Classic Eggplant Parmesan
- How To Make Eggplant Noodles
- Roasted Eggplant Salad with Smoked Almonds & Goat Cheese
- How To Make Eggplant Jerky
- How To Make Eggplant Bacon
- Easy French Ratatouille
- Sweet & Smoky Eggplant Spread
- How To Make Eggplant Rollatini
- How To Make Vegan Eggplant Bolognese
- Vegan Stir-Fried Garlic Tofu and Eggplant
- Grilled Eggplant Topped with Goat Cheese and Tomato
- Skillet Eggplant Parm
- Sausage and Eggplant Summer Frittata
- Caramelized Eggplant & Onion Orzo
- Grilled Eggplant Burgers with Halloumi Cheese
- Crustless Quiche with Summer Vegetables
- Farro Salad with Roasted Eggplant, Caramelized Onion, and Pine Nuts
What’s your favorite recipe or use for eggplant? Any favorite way to cook it?
31 Days of Vegetables: How to fall in love with vegetables in 31 days. How many of these splendid veg have you eaten this month? Take a look at the whole list and take our July challenge to eat every single one!