Eggplant holds an esteemed place in many Mediterranean cuisines—caponata from Italy, ratatouille from Provence, moussaka from Greece, baba ghanouj from all over the Middle East, and myriad hot and cold dishes from Turkey, where eggplant is the king of vegetables.
But many American cooks hesitate when it comes to eggplant. What does salting the eggplant do? How to prevent it from soaking up all that oil? How to know if you’re properly cooking it when you’re grilling, roasting, or frying? Using these simple techniques for selection, preparation, and cooking, you’ll be able to grill, roast, or fry eggplant to succulent, creamy perfection.
For more eggplant how-to,start at the beginning and visit FineGardening.com for tips on growing your own eggplant, then watch our Test Kitchen pros demonstrate how to grill eggplant and how to roast eggplant.
At the Market: How to Choose Eggplant
At the market, look for eggplant with smooth, shiny skin that’s unwrinkled. The fruit should feel firm and spring back slightly when you touch it. Try to find an eggplant with a stem that looks moist, as if recently cut. It’s best to use eggplant when it’s very fresh, but it will keep for two or three days in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
Western or globe eggplant is the most common and versatile variety, and you can find it year-round, though in most parts of the country, the peak season is late summer. Though it needs a little preparation, the reward is a succulent, silky treat. Globe eggplant is the most versatile variety, too—its larger size enables you to get slices and chunks. It varies in size from 3/4 pound to 1-1/4 pounds, with dark purple skin. A fresh globe eggplant has pale pulp with a few noticeable seeds, which darken and become bitter as the eggplant matures. Eggplant with parts of dark, hardened pulp with lots of dark seeds will be a disappointment—these parts must be removed; otherwise, the flavor and the texture of the finished dish will suffer.
The one type of dish for which globe eggplant isn’t so good is stuffed eggplant dishes, such as Turkey’s famed imam bayildi (pronounced AH-mahn by-yahl-deh), where you need smaller, individual eggplant for the look of the finished dish. Japanese eggplant is perfect for this; I can always be sure that the pulp will be tender and that the eggplant won’t need peeling or salting.
Peel for the best texture
Because globe eggplant and other large varieties usually have tough skins, peeling it is a good idea, especially if you’re serving it in chunks or slices. But I don’t like to remove the skin entirely. Instead, I partially peel it in a striped fashion.
When you grill-roast the eggplant and then separate the flesh from the peel, keep the skin on during cooking to keep the eggplant intact.
Salt for best flavor
Globe eggplant works deliciously in just about any eggplant dish, provided you salt it first. Salting, also known as purging, accomplishes two goals: it pulls out juices that carry bitter flavors, and it collapses the air pockets in the eggplant’s sponge-like flesh, thus preveniting it from absorbing too much oil and getting greasy.
To salt eggplant, peel it and then slice, cube, or quarter it, depending on the recipe. Sprinkle the pieces generously with salt and let them sit in a colander for an hour (you’ll usually see a lot of liquid beading on the surface). Rinse the eggplant in plenty of water to remove the salt, firmly squeeze a few pieces at a time in the palm of your hand to draw out almost all the moisture, and then pat the eggplant dry with paper towels. Thorough drying is important; squeezing out excess moisture will give you a less greasy result.
Grill, roast, or fry—and always cook thoroughly
Eggplant is one vegetable for which slight undercooking will not work. It must be completely cooked through until it’s meltingly soft, smooth, and creamy; only then will it be flavorful on its own, as well as receptive to the other flavors with which you’ll blend it.
How to Grill Eggplant
Salt and thoroughly dry the eggplant. Brush the slices with oil and grill over a medium-hot fire until soft and cooked through. Watch a video to learn how to grill eggplant so that it cooks all the way through without charring.
How to Grill-Roast Eggplant
For the Eggplant with Fragrant Spices and the Eggplant & Pepper Dip, the eggplant needs a smoky taste. To achieve this, pierce the eggplant with a skewer and cook it whole and unpeeled directly over a grill flame until the skin is blackened all over and the flesh is thoroughly soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Grill-roasting can get messy, so if you’re trying this over an indoor gas flame, line the burner trays with foil or try broiling the pierced eggplant instead. Peel off the blackened skin, drain the flesh in a colander, and squeeze out all the moisture.
How to Oven-Roast Eggplant
As an alternative to grill-roasting, pierce the eggplant in several places and roast it whole and unpeeled on a baking sheet at 350°F until it’s quite soft and starting to collapse, almost an hour. Peel and drain it as you would for grill-roasting.
How to Fry and Stir-fry Eggplant
These cooking methods seem to throw people the most because of how much grease eggplant can soak up. If you’re using globe eggplant, salt it and squeeze it dry; other varieties don’t need salting. Be sure the oil is very hot and put the slices in the pan in one layer (if you crowd the pan, the eggplant will steam instead of fry and won’t cook evenly). Turn often and adjust the heat to avoid burning until the slices are a rich brown color, about 1 to 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Quick-cooking Japanese and Chinese eggplant are the best candidates for stir-frying. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. When the oil is very hot, toss the cubes into the pan with a little salt and stir-fry until the eggplant is a rich brown color.