What to Do With the Smallest, Most Beautiful Eggplants of All

updated Dec 6, 2022
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

If you are like me, you need a good recipe to handle the absurd number of eggplant varieties, like baby heirloom eggplants, you buy during the summer months. Especially, those sweet little Fairy Tale eggplants. With purple and white stripes and a miniature form, they are completely irresistible. I buy a basket of the adorable veggies from every vendor who sells them at the farmers market. Am I alone?

Like zucchini, eggplants are best bought small — and the summer is the time to easily find petite and beautiful eggplants.

Even if you don’t have my surplus problem, I’m guessing you may still be tempted to buy some of the many heirloom and non-traditional options you find at the market these days. They are calling out to you, but you aren’t exactly sure how to cook the eggplants. Am I right? Yes, the uncommon sizes and shapes may cause some pause, but you can handle them the same as globe and the standard Italian eggplants.

How to Cook Petite Eggplants

Most varieties will take to stir-frying, grilling, and roasting in slices to be enjoyed as is (or roasting whole to be peeled and puréed). You can toss eggplant with pasta (it’s excellent with tomato sauce, a touch of cream, mozzarella, and basil) or dredge it in breadcrumbs and cornmeal to pan-fry or bake. (I could go on and on.)

Whether you have a habit of buying too many Fairy Tale eggplants like me or more rare varieties intimidate you, I have one, very special and extremely simple recipe for you. It’s an eggplant side dish (you can also make it a main) that you can rely on and prepare all summer. It’s one of my favorite summer recipes — a constant in my weekly rotation. All it requires is eggplant, garlic, mint (or other fresh herbs), and red wine or balsamic vinegar.

It’s especially fitting for those Fairy Tale eggplants that I adore, but you can certainly use any type of eggplant you wish. (I like also like listada de gandia, Japanese, and Turkish eggplant here when you can’t procure the Fairy Tale variety. Just cut other eggplants into large bite-sized pieces.)

From here on out, the second you spot any darling variety, you can buy as many as you wish. You’ll know exactly how to cook your small eggplants.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Cara’s Grilled Fairytale Eggplant with Garlic & Mint

Cut 3/4 to 1 pound of baby eggplants in half lengthwise. If you are using larger heirloom varieties or more standard ones, dice them into large bite-sized pieces.

In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with about 2 tablespoons olive oil (enough to generously coat the eggplant), 2 minced garlic cloves, salt, pepper, (red pepper flakes also if you wish), and 4 to 6 large mint leaves, coarsely chopped; let stand to marinate for about 30 minutes.

Grill the eggplant in a grill basket over medium-high heat, covered. Turn occasionally until the skins are slightly charred and the flesh is tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the eggplant pieces back to the bowl you used to marinate them. Immediately toss them with a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar, a sprinkle of flaked sea salt, and a small handful of freshly chopped mint.

Serve as a hearty side or over couscous with a dollop of yogurt combined with lemon or lime juice, and a shaving of raw garlic.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)