Love eggplant, but don't want to fry it? Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst brings host Robin Young three dishes that use roasted eggplant for maximum flavor.
Eggplant, also called aubergine, garden egg and brinjal, is a member of the nightshade family along with tomatoes and green peppers. Considered a fruit, eggplant is native to India.
When it was first introduced in England, it was thought to be poisonous. But eggplant is now beloved the world over. Its meaty texture means it can be sauteed, roasted, steamed, fried, baked and made into salads, fries, dips, gratins, curries, casseroles and more. It has an affinity for tomatoes, basil, anchovies, mint, ginger and garlic.
Eggplant Pitfalls, And How To Avoid Them
There are two issues with eggplant that plague most cooks: The first is that eggplant can be quite bitter. There are a few ways to deal with this. The first is to know that bitterness develops with age, so you want to try to shop for eggplants at a farmers market where the eggplant will be younger and fresher. Always look for younger, smaller eggplant as they tend to be less bitter.
If you're buying eggplant from the supermarket, the best way to draw out the bitter juices is to salt the flesh. Cut the eggplant in half or into multiple pieces (depending on what the recipe calls for), place in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt. Place a plate on top and weigh it down with a can of soup or beans to push the eggplant down. Leave for about 30 minutes. Bitter juices should be released. Rinse the eggplant pieces to remove the salt and dry thoroughly. You can then proceed with the recipe.
The second issue is that eggplant is like a sponge and soaks up large quantities of oil and other flavors. Oil is a problem. Other flavors is a good thing. To avoid soaking up a lot of oil, I like to roast the eggplant first to soften it so it doesn't need to be cooked in lots of oil. Follow the recipes below.
What To Look For At The Market
Eggplant is found throughout the fall. Look for young, smaller fruit that feels firm, heavy in your hand and not mushy. The skin should be smooth and glossy with no bruises or scars.
9 Types Of Eggplant
There are dozens of different types of eggplant in every shape, size, color and texture. There are even more heirloom varieties. Some of the most common and popular include:
- Fairy tale eggplant, which tends to be small (about 2 to 4 inches), has fewer seeds than other varieties and a moist texture with little bitterness.
- Globe eggplant, also called American eggplant, tend to be large and meaty. They are great for grilling and good to use whole for dips.
- Graffiti eggplant, also called Sicilian eggplant, has gorgeous violet-purple and white stripes, and come small to large in size. They are oblong with a fruity flavor and can be used for virtually any eggplant dish.
- Indian eggplant, or baby eggplant, is a small, squat variety with a rich purple color. They are ideal for curries, or can be cooked whole and used in dips or, because of their cool shape, are ideal for stuffing.
- Italian eggplant is a bit smaller with thinner skin and tender flesh, and is a good multipurpose eggplant. They are excellent for eggplant Parmesan.
- Japanese eggplant and Chinese eggplant: A long, narrow variety. Japanese eggplant has a deeper purple color while Chinese eggplant is more of a lavender color. Both varieties are fairly thin skinned with few seeds and a creamy texture. They are great for stir fries.
- Thai eggplant: Small and round and greenish in color, this eggplant looks like a big fig. They tend to be bitter and are best salted to draw out the bitter juices before cooking. They are excellent used in curries.
- White eggplant comes in many varieties and has the same flesh as purple eggplant but a tougher skin and a milder, slightly more delicate flavor.
Eggplant Parmesan Light
Eggplant Parmesan, that classic Italian favorite, tends to be heavy with a load of cheese and oil. This version calls for a roasted eggplant that is thinly sliced and layered with tomato slices, fresh mozzarella, basil leaves and just a drizzle of olive oil.
The dish is baked just before serving and is delicious on its own or served with pasta. This makes enough for two generous servings but can easily be doubled or tripled.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- One 1-pound eggplant
- 3 medium or 2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 12 fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, one large ball, cut into thin slices
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the eggplant in foil and place on the middle shelf of the heated oven. Roast for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the eggplant feels softened — but not mushy — when gently prodded with your fingers. Remove from oven and let cool. When cool, trim ends off eggplant and cut into 1/2-inch slices.
- Spread 1 tablespoon of the oil in the bottom of a large ovenproof skillet or large baking dish or gratin dish. Starting at one end of the dish, place one slice of eggplant, followed by a slice of tomato, followed by a slice of mozzarella and finally a basil leaf. Repeat creating two or three rows in the skillet. If there are any leftover tomatoes or basil place them in the center between the rows. Season liberally with salt and pepper and drizzle the dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. The dish can be made a day ahead of time up to this point; cover and refrigerate.
- Bake the dish on the middle shelf of the heated oven for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and bake another 10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and the eggplant is thoroughly tender. Serve hot.
Green Curry Eggplant
A simplified version of a Thai green curry, this eggplant dish is rich with coconut milk, ginger, cilantro, garlic and scallions. The flavors are sophisticated considering how quickly this dish comes together. Serve with brown or white rice and a sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro, and scallions.
Serves 2 to 4.
- 1 1/2 pounds eggplant
- About 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon chopped ginger
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons green curry paste*
- 1/3 cup finely chopped scallions
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, greens and stems
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce*
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tablespoon honey
- One 13.5-ounce can coconut milk*
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
- Splash hot pepper sauce (optional)
*Available in the Asian aisles at most supermarkets or in Asian groceries.
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the eggplant whole in a piece of foil and roast for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size, or until it feels soft when pressed gently with your fingers. It shouldn't be mushy or overly soft. Remove from the oven and let cool. Remove from foil and cut off ends and then cut into 1 inch pieces.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet or pot heat the oil over low heat. Add the onion, half the ginger and half the garlic, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Push the onion mixture to the side and raise the heat to moderately high. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. If the pot seems dry add another 1/2 tablespoon oil. Reduce heat to low and stir in the green curry paste, the remaining ginger and garlic, and half the scallions and cilantro and cook for 2 minutes. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce and honey and cook, stirring for another 2 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and the 1/4 cup water and cook, partially covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the eggplant is tender and the sauce has thickened a bit and is very flavorful. If the liquid is too thick add at least another 1/4 cup water.
- Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper or hot pepper sauce, to taste. Sprinkle with the remaining scallions and cilantro and serve on top of or alongside brown or white rice.
Caponata (Sicilian-Style Eggplant "Relish")
Think of this sweet-and-sour eggplant condiment as a Sicilian-style ratatouille. Made with eggplant, peppers, celery, garlic, capers, raisins and vinegar, caponata is delicious served with cheese platters, on crackers or alongside grilled fish, chicken or meat. The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.
Makes about 6 cups.
- 1 pound eggplant
- About 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 sweet red pepper, cored and chopped
- 1 sweet green pepper, cored and chopped
- 3 cups chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
- About 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons chile paste or hot pepper sauce, depending on how spicy you want it
- 1/3 cup pitted chopped green and/or black olives
- 3 tablespoons capers, drained
- 3 tablespoons red or white vinegar
- 3/4 cup golden or regular raisins
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the eggplant whole in a piece of foil and roast for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size, or until it feels soft when pressed gently with your fingers. It shouldn’t be mushy or overly soft. Remove from the oven and let cool. Remove from foil and cut off ends and coarsely chop. Set aside.
- Meanwhile in a large skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil over low heat. Add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook, stirring for 10 minutes. Add the peppers and cook another 8 minutes. Raise the heat to moderate and add the eggplant and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook another 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add the chile paste (or hot sauce), olives, capers and vinegar and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the raisins and celery and cook for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, vinegar and or hot sauce to taste.
- The caponata will keep in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for about a week. It can also be canned for about 12 minutes. Follow the instructions here or here for canning.
This segment aired on September 24, 2018.