By Kristine Kidd
from Fine Cooking #112, p. 64-69
I remember the moment when I became an eggplant lover. It was late summer at the Santa Monica farmers’ market, and I stood in front of a stand, transfixed by its display of richly colored eggplant varieties. Baskets overflowed with tiny purple-and-white-streaked Fairy Tales, fat, cream-color Claras, lavender-striped Calliopes, and shiny Black Beauties. The assortment was unlike anything at the grocery store. I filled my bag to bursting, as excited to find a favorite as I was to get cooking. Back home, I devoured plates of eggplant for a week straight—and then returned to that same stand the next week for more. I was in love.
Every summer since then, I’ve eagerly awaited the reappearance of this exotic-looking fruit. Not only is eggplant gorgeous, but it also has wonderfully complex, nutty flavor and luscious texture. It undergoes an amazing transformation when cooked: When it’s sliced and grilled, its edges become crisp and its center, creamy. Braised eggplant turns succulent, readily soaking up the flavors with which it’s cooked. Stir-fried eggplant is meltingly tender and the perfect canvas for bright, bold seasonings. Fried eggplant develops a crisp outside and buttery inside. What’s more, with so many varieties to play with, there’s no getting bored. Try some of the recipes here—and who knows, you might just fall in love, too.
|Southeast Asian Grilled Eggplant Salad||Open-Face Grilled Eggplant sandwiches with Olive-Walnut Relish|
|Lamb Chops and Eggplant with Indian Spices||Eggplant, Scallop, and Broccolini Stir-Fry|
|Grilled Arctic Char and Eggplant with Fresh Herb Salsa Verde|
When it comes to eggplant, there’s no shortage of old wives’ tales and theories. Here are a few of the facts that every cook should know
It’s a fruit, not a vegetable. Although a member of the nightshade family (which also includes potatoes) and usually cooked like a vegetable, eggplant is actually a fruit—specifically, a berry.
There’s no such thing as a male or female eggplant. Fruit is genderless, but you’ll still hear eggplants referred to as “male” or “female.” A common misconception is that the number of seeds in a plant correlates to its sex, with fewer seeds indicating a male and more indicating a female. In truth, seediness has more to do with age than anything else. Young eggplants have smaller, less noticeable seeds; mature eggplants have larger seeds.
You don’t always need to salt eggplant. Traditionally, eggplant was sprinkled with salt before cooking to lessen its bitter flavor. Modern varieties are much less bitter than eggplants of yore, though, making salting less of a necessity. That said, salting beforehand can make eggplant less oily. The salt pulls out moisture from the fruit and collapses the air pockets in its soft flesh, making it less apt to absorb lots of oil.
The dimple shape on the base of an eggplant doesn’t mean much. Folklore has it that a round dimple on the base of an eggplant indicates that it has fewer seeds. An oval dimple is supposedly a sign that an eggplant has more seeds and less flesh. I haven’t found dimple shape to reliably indicate seediness; instead, I focus on how firm and shiny an eggplant is before buying it.
Photos by: Scott Phillips