Eggplant used to be only a harvest-time classic, but it’s now a year-round staple, thanks to local greenhouses and imports. And that’s a good thing: Eggplant is irresistible in any season. Whether you like this mild, slightly sweet and earthy vegetable grilled, stuffed, roasted or sautéed, here’s how to get the most out of it.
The Right Eggplant for the Job
In colours ranging from deep purple to creamy white, eggplant also comes in different shapes and sizes. The selection varies by store, but here are five common varieties you’ll often find in our produce section—and the tastiest ways to prepare them.
- Globe: These inky-purple, pear-shaped eggplants are the “regular” ones you often see in the produce aisle. They work in just about any recipe and are delicious roasted whole, peeled and mashed for dips. Bigger ones can get seedy, so stick with medium if you can.
- Sicilian: Also known as Graffiti eggplants, these rounded, pear-shaped beauties are lavender to purple with white markings. They have small seeds and thin skins, so they are great for roasting or stewing.
- Mini Italian: Smaller and sweeter than Globes, mini Italian eggplants are tasty when cut into wedges for grilling or roasting, or halved and stuffed as an appetizer.
- Chinese: Long, skinny and violet, this is the sweetest eggplant variety. Their tender flesh cooks quickly, making them ideal for stir-frying, sautéing or grilling.
- White: Just like their purple Globe cousins, these cream-coloured eggplants work in most recipes. They have fairly thick skins, so try peeling them before adding the flesh to your favourite dishes.
How to Buy
Look for smooth, taut, shiny skin without any brown spots or blemishes. An eggplant should be firm but not too firm—it should spring back if you press it gently with your thumb. A bright green stem is a clear sign that it was recently picked.
How to Store
Eggplants become increasingly bitter as they age, so eat them as soon as possible after purchasing. These tropical fruits—yes, they’re fruits!—quickly develop brown spots and turn mushy when exposed to cold temperatures, so store them at cool room temperature (not in the fridge), and use them up within a day or two to enjoy the freshest flavour.
How to Prep
The only essential tool you need to prep eggplant is a sharp chef’s knife—a dull blade won’t slice through the thick skin effortlessly. Using a large knife makes it much easier to cut bigger eggplants into even slices. The stem is the only part of an eggplant you can’t eat, but leaving it on baked eggplant halves gives them a more rustic look. When roasting the whole vegetable for soup or dip, make sure to prick it with a fork in a few places to let the steam escape. No one wants an exploding eggplant!
To Salt or Not to Salt
Old-school recipes ask you to sprinkle salt over cut eggplant and drain it in a colander or between layers of paper towel. The theory is that the salt draws out the bitter juices. The new school of thought is that the presence of salt simply reduces your perception of bitterness. Most home cooks don’t salt and drain eggplant, and it tastes delicious. But if you are sensitive to bitter flavours, give it a try. Choosing the freshest eggplants you can find, especially sweeter Chinese or mini Italian varieties, will help too.
Eggplant has a mild taste and soaks up robust flavours, such as onion, garlic, hot pepper, sesame oil and miso paste. It pairs well with stronger-tasting cheeses (feta, Parmesan and Romano) and soft herbs (basil, dill and cilantro).
Eggplant develops a rich flavour when cooked, and it benefits from the acidic bite of lemon juice, vinegar and tomatoes. This makes it a natural base for tangy dips, such as Classic Baba Ghanouj.
When eggplant hits the grill, it gets crisp-skinned, and creamy and smoky inside. Try it in simple Grilled Eggplant & Honey or in Spanish-inspired Grilled Eggplant & Green Onions with Red-Pepper Almond Sauce.
Or serve the vegetable up in some creative ways. Try it sliced, fried and topped with veggies in Sautéed Eggplant with Oregano-Vegetable Toss, or sliced, roasted and rolled into bundles around pesto and cheese in Eggplant Feta Roll-Ups.
Finally, no discussion of this vegetable is complete without mentioning classic eggplant parmigiana. Our simplified Baked Eggplant Parmesan fills your kitchen with the most delicious aromas and is comfort food at its very best.