Before we even start, let me just say (scream) I LOVE EGGPLANTS! – OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…
Aubergines, garden eggs (as they are sometimes called in Jamaica), or simply eggplants (scientific name: solanum melongena), are actually *drum rolls* a fruit! Yup, these spongy, usually-(dark)-purple, slightly bitter, tear-drop-shaped things are a fruit (in the botanical world at least) – more specifically a berry – and closely related to the potato and tomato. Funny enough, I stopped being surprised when I found out that tomatoes, are also fruits.
Eggplants grow in a manner much like tomatoes, hanging from the vines of a plant that grows several feet in height.
What really makes eggplants so amazing (to me at least) is its uncanny ability to take on any flavour you want it to as it absorbs really well, while still maintaining its own unique umami-esque flavour. As hinted at in my About Me page, my relationship with eggplants started pretty early. My Guyanese mom got me hooked on baingan choka, a family tradition involving slow roasting and then sauteing the pureed eggplants with lots of garlic.
How to Select and Store
Choose eggplants that:
- are firm and heavy for their size
- have smooth, shiny, and vivid coloured skin (whether it be purple, white or green)
- are free of discoloration, scar and bruises
- have a healthy, bright green stem and cap on either end.
Avoid soft or brown spots.
To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently pressthe skin with the pad of your thumb (note: this may be addictive – No? Ok, #asyouwere). If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not.
Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in their storage. These poor things are sensitive to both heat and cold and should ideally be stored at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.
Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a few days.
Most eggplants can be eaten either with or without their skin; however the larger ones generally have tough skins that may not be palatable. To remove skin, you can peel it before cutting or if you are baking it, you can scoop out the flesh once it is cooked. The flesh discolors quickly, cut just before using. When cutting or chopping it, use a stainless-steel knife, since carbon-steel utensils can cause discoloration and a bitter aftertaste.
To tenderize the flesh’s texture and reduce some of its naturally occurring bitter taste, you can sweat the eggplant by salting it, a process called degorging.
– I’ll wait for you to go write this down –
After cutting the eggplant into the desired size and shape, sprinkle it with salt (don’t be stingy) and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes to an hour. This will cause the eggplants to ‘sweat’ and makes it less permeable to absorbing any oil used in cooking. Rinse the eggplants thoroughly to remove most of the salt.
Eggplant can be baked, braised, boiled, fried, grilled, roasted, sauteed, or stewed. If baking it whole, pierce the eggplant several times with a fork to make small holes so the steam can escape. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (about 177 degrees Celsius) for 15 to 25 minutes, depending upon size. You can test for its readiness by gently inserting a knife or fork to see if it passes through easily.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
- Bake breaded eggplant medallions topped with your favourite cheese and herbs and serve as a yummy starter.
- For homemade baba ghanoush, purée roasted eggplant, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil. Use it as a dip for vegetables or as a sandwich filling.
- Stew eggplants and potatoes with your favorite meat or seafood. Good choices include boneless chicken, shrimp, and salted codfish.
- Mix cubed baked eggplant with grilled peppers, lentils, onions and garlic and top with balsamic vinaigrette.
- Add eggplant to your next Indian curry or stir-fry
Honestly speaking, I’ve found that many people have reservations with it comes to preparing/eating eggplant dishes, mostly because of their lack of knowledge on its preparation and the stigma that it is a bitter vegetable. I recall when I was living in Cali, Colombia and my landlady was amazed at how good my curried eggplants with potatoes tasted. Homegirl remarked that she had no clue eggplants could do that. And they can do so much more! Try it. Look out for some of my favourite eggplant recipes.