Eggplant is a very useful vegetable to have in your repertoire. It’s meaty, so it’s a great thing to work with if you are cooking for vegetarians or vegans. It is fairly mild, and it tends to absorb the flavors it is cooked with. It doesn’t fight with other flavors, but it can still stand up to spice and heat and intensity. You can cook it in myriad ways, and it is a great place to experiment with the foods of other cultures since there are traditional eggplant dishes all around the world.
If you are going to cook with eggplant, here are some ways to get started.
Choose Your Eggplant
Eggplants come in many varieties and colors, from large dark purple footballs to tiny white egg-shaped versions, long skinny light purple Japanese, to small variegated orbs. Choose the style that most suits the dish you want to make. Eggplant dishes calling for layers or rolled items will be easier with larger plants, while stuffed dishes work best with smaller rounder versions, and stir-fries are great with the skinny style.
Prep the Eggplant
Your chosen recipe will tell you a lot about anything really specific, but in general, you want to think about the dish you are making. If you are grilling, you want to be sure to keep the skin on to help hold things together when you are turning, if you are layering in a dish, you might want to peel the skin off so that it makes it easier to cut your final dish into serving portions. If you need the eggplant to not release as much moisture in the dish, salting and draining, and even squeezing dry your eggplant can ensure your dish doesn’t get soggy. If you are stuffing an eggplant, you will want to remove all the seeds leaving between ½ and ¾ of an inch of flesh with the skin on.
Get the recipe: Eggplant Parmesan
Many dishes call for mashed roasted eggplant. To make this, preheat your oven to 350. Prick your eggplant all over to ensure that steam can escape during cooking, otherwise you risk an eggsplosion. Place your whole eggplant directly on the rack of your oven, with a sheet pan on the rack below to catch any drips. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour until tender and slightly wrinkly. Remove from the oven and cover with foil. When cool enough to handle, the skin should peel right off and you can easily mash the flesh for your recipe.
Get the recipe: Eggplant Rollatini
If your dish calls for grilled eggplant slices, you can do this on an outdoor grill or inside on a grill pan. Eggplant is super porous, so it is one of the few times I recommend oiling the grill or the pan but not the eggplant, since it will just soak up the oil. Also, do not season with salt or pepper until after cooking, so that it doesn’t draw out the water and prevent good grill marks. Season after cooking. Grill over direct heat until the vegetable is soft and has the markings you want.
Get the recipe: Grilled Eggplant With Morroccan Spices
In general I recommend frying eggplant with some sort of coating to prevent it from soaking up the oil. A light tempura batter or a coating of flour, egg and breadcrumbs will protect the flesh as it cooks so that it won’t be greasy. And pan-frying in a shallow amount of oil will be better than deep frying in most cases. Fry in a neutral oil with a high smoking point, like peanut oil.
Get the recipe: Stir-Fried Eggplant and Tofu
Many Asian recipes call for eggplant to be steamed to softness before getting tossed with flavorful sauces. In this case, I do recommend salting the eggplant lightly before cooking and letting it drain for 20-30 minutes to help the moisture release so that the steaming doesn’t make them sodden.
Get the recipe: Steamed Japanese Eggplant with Spicy Green Onion-Ginger Sauce