Eggplant 101: How to Cook this Exotic Veggie
Every year my CSA box is brimming with eggplant. And every year I have the best intentions to use it all up. But the Grimace-like veggie (technically a fruit, but who’s keeping score?) isn’t always the friendliest to the home cook. I’ve made several eggplant dishes that ranged from tough and tasteless to slimy and sad. It got to the point where I started shoving new eggplant to the back of the fridge and forgetting them until they went bad.
But experienced eggplant enthusiasts swear that eggplant doesn’t have to be bland or blah. With some proper preparation and the right cooking technique, you can learn to enjoy eggplant cooked in your own kitchen — and even go beyond baba ghanouj and eggplant Parmesan. Here are some tips on how to get eggplant just right, as well as a few simple recipes that highlight this odd fruit’s finer points:
Just add salt. A generous salting before you cook the eggplant helps to draw out bitter juices in the fruit, and keeps the eggplant from absorbing too much oil or grease as you cook it. After peeling and cutting or slicing, give the eggplant a generous sprinkling of salt, then allow it to sit for about a half-hour (or even longer). Pat with a paper towel to remove excess salt and moisture before you cook. Smaller varieties of eggplant may not need to be salted prior to cooking.
Go easy on the oil. Eggplant has a spongy nature and can easily soak up way too much grease. Go very light on the oil or butter.
Think “well done.” You might like the rest of your veggies with a bit of undercooked snap, but that won’t work for eggplant. Its tough, fibrous interior needs a thorough cooking in order to turn silky and flavorful.
Feeling ready to give eggplant a shot? Try one of these Food Network recipes:
Eggplant Gratin from Ina Garten. Could be a great alternative to a potato side dish this holiday!
Baked Angel Hair with Eggplant, from Giada De Laurentiis. Can’t go wrong with pasta + eggplant.
Lemon Rice and Eggplant-Chick Pea Curry, from Rachael Ray. A simple, hearty dish with great flavor combinations.