“Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.” ~Elizabeth Berry
Eggplant used to scare me. I avoided it at all costs. That is until I learned about its properties and how to prepare it. If you handle it incorrectly it could be your worst nightmare but if you treat it properly, it could be your newest best friend. I want to share some secrets of the world of eggplant with you and hope that you give this magnificent vegetable a chance in your kitchen!
Varieties of Eggplant:
There are many different varieties of eggplants in the US. The most common are the Italian eggplants which are usually dark purple (almost black) and oval shaped.
The second most common is the Asian or Japanese eggplants. They are long and tubular, sometimes even twisty.
You can even find white eggplant, speckled eggplant, and more! But as far as taste goes, there is not much of a difference. Some say that the Japanese and white eggplants have a more mild flavor than the Italian varieties. To me, they taste the same. However, the Japanese eggplants do tend to have thinner skin. When deciding which variety to buy, I suggest you focus more on the shape that you want for your eggplant in whatever recipe you plan to make. For example, if making a casserole, I want my eggplant slices to be small and round, so I would go with the Japanese variety. If making eggplant sandwiches, I would choose the Italian eggplant because I like large slices that fit on my bread. It’s up to you!
1. Buying local eggplants is much preferred. You are guaranteed to eat them when they are in their peak season (which means they will taste better) and of course it is one of the best ways you can be environmentally friendly. If you can’t buy them at your local farmer’s market then choose organic eggplant at your local grocery/health food store.
2. All eggplants should have smooth skin, free of blemishes and bruises, and be firm when lightly squeezed. (Don’t squeeze too hard!) Avoid an eggplant that is wrinkly or that has soft spots, those are signs that the eggplant is too old. Eggplant is best kept in the refrigerator until ready to prepare.
The most important property you need to know about eggplant is that it is absorbent. Like a sponge, it will soak up any liquid that you put on it. This can be good if you are making eggplant parmesan but this can be very bad when it comes to oil. Many people (who prepare eggplant incorrectly) complain of eggplant being mushy- and it can be if you let it soak up liquid!
That is why sweating the eggplant is essential before cooking it. This is when you salt the eggplant and allow it to sit. The salt extracts the excess liquid within the eggplant, so that when you cook it and it absorbs more moisture, it isn’t too moist.
Decide whether you will peel your eggplant or leave the skin on. This is up to personal preference. Then slice your eggplant as you wish, either horizontally into rounds, or lengthwise into strips/slices. Be careful not to cut your eggplant too thick or too thin, as this will either make it too dry or too moist. I usually cut mine to 1/4” thick slices. Then lay out all your slices and salt them. If you want to be really thorough you could salt both sides but I usually just do the top. Then set your kitchen timer for 30 minutes and let them sweat. When 30 minutes is up, rinse the salt off under cool water, quickly (like you would a mushroom- you don’t want it to absorb all the water!). Dry well on paper towels, pressing down lightly to absorb all the water. Then you are ready to cook your eggplant!
My preferred method of cooking eggplant is roasting. You can also grill, sauté or fry eggplant (we don’t like to use the “f” word in our house!). If grilling eggplant, make sure you brush both sides of your slices with olive oil before placing on the grill. Today I’d like to focus on roasting eggplant. My instructions for roasting eggplant are included in my recipe below. I typically roast my eggplant this same way before using it in almost any recipe!
These “roasted veggie melts” are great for lunch or dinner. Even non-veggie lovers are sure to love this sandwich since it is reminiscent of an Italian sandwich- only in this case, sans meat. Eggplant is a great meat-replacer. If we’re at home we like to make them this way under the broiler on crusty bread. Another thing I like to do is after cooking all of these veggies let them cool and put them into tupperware containers in the fridge. Then we take regular bread to lunch, veggies, and cheese, etc. We toast the bread at work and melt everything else on the bread and it’s a healthy yummy lunch!
Roasted Veggie Melts (makes several sandwiches)
1 medium Italian eggplant, rinsed and dried
2 bell peppers, cut into long strips
1 yellow onion, cut into long strips
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 tomato, thinly sliced
provolone cheese slices
herbes de Provence/Italian seasoning
1. Slice your eggplant into rounds about 1/4” thick. Lay on cutting board. Salt them and allow to sweat for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Quickly rinse eggplant slices under cool water and dry well on paper towels.
3. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray or brush with oil. Arrange eggplant slices on baking sheet. Freshly grind some pepper over them- they don’t need any more salt. Brush with a light coat of olive oil on top sides of the slices. Or you could spray them with non-stick cooking spray of your choice.
4. Roast eggplant in oven at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes depending on how thick or thin slices are. Check on them if needed to make sure you don’t burn them.
5. Sauté the onions and peppers in some olive oil over medium heat until soft, then add garlic and sauté for a minute more. Season with salt and pepper.
6. To make sandwiches, open up your hoagie rolls and lightly brush the insides with olive oil. Preheat the broiler and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (or use the same one from the eggplant) and spray with non-stick spray or brush with olive oil.
7. Lay open-faced hoagie rolls on lined baking sheet and on bottom side of each roll layer roasted eggplant slices. Then top with some of the pepper, onion and garlic mixture. Lay some slices of tomato on top, sprinkle with seasoning of your choice (I like to use herbes de Provence, hubby likes Italian seasoning) and put some provolone cheese on top.
8. Put open-faced sandwiches under broiler until bread is crisp and cheese is melted. Keep watch so they don’t burn! About 2 minutes.
9. Then drizzle some natural Italian dressing on top (or in my husband’s case he likes to put mayo on it) and Enjoy!!
Here are some other Eggplant Recipes that I’ve tried and really liked:
– Cornmeal-Crusted Ratatouille Tart (I used whole wheat instead of cornmeal for the crust)
– Eggplant Gratin
– Grilled Vegetables
– Stuffed Eggplant with Shrimp and Basil
– Also stay tuned for my own recipe for Eggplant Burgers coming soon!!