In the Kitchen: Eggplant

Eggplant

It's hard for me to understand why eggplant isn't a more popular vegetable. Perhaps it is the image that the name evokes, or bad memories of overcooked eggplant parmesan served by our well-intentioned parents. I find it a beautiful vegetable. And if it weren't so difficult to grow, I'd have it in my garden for its aesthetic qualities alone. Purple eggplants are especially pleasing because of the color, but I also like the smooth, curved shapes of all varieties of eggplant.

Eggplant actually has little flavor on its own. It absorbs the spices and seasoning used during cooking, which makes it really quite versatile.

Peak eggplant season is between August and September. When selecting eggplants at the store or farmer's market, go for those that are blemish free, shiny and heavy. I pick the smaller sized ones because they tend to be sweet and tender with fewer seeds. Avoid those with wrinkled skin and/or overly soft flesh, as these are indicators of age. A good test is to press the flesh with your thumb. The flesh should spring back when pressed. If the thumbprint remains, the eggplant is too old and will be bitter.

Also check out the bottom end of the fruit. Look at the dimple to see if it is round or oval. Fruits with an oval dimple will be meatier and contain less seeds than those with a round dimple.

As with most fresh vegetables, it is best to use eggplant the day of purchase but given modern day schedules, this is not always feasible. You can store eggplant for about 3 days in the refrigerator.

I think one of the reasons that many cooks shy away from eggplant is because of its reputation for being bitter. This can be avoided by choosing the freshest eggplant available and selecting varieties that are breed to be less bitter. Much of the bitter flavor resides just below the skin, so peeling the skin will make it better tasting. Some people peel, slice and salt eggplant to pull out the bitter juices. Just allow the salted pieces to sit in a colander for about 1 hour then wash away the condensation that builds up on the surface, squeeze the pieces to remove any remaining moisture and pat dry.

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