The other day at Sprouts, a local grocery store, a woman saw me selecting baby eggplant.
She asked, "Do you like those?"
"Oh, I adore them," I said. "They're much sweeter and more tender than large eggplants."
"How do you cook them?" she asked.
"Lots of ways," I replied. "You can saute them, stuff them, broil them."
She screwed up her mouth, looked perplexed. "Mmmm... I don't know," she mumbled.
I scanned her shopping cart and noticed she had a bag full of baby eggplants in it. I said, "Well, you must like them too."
"Me? No, I don't really like eggplant," she said. "I only bought these cause they're just too cute to pass up."
Blame it on the cute factor — you know, when you buy something not because you love or need it but because it's too cute to pass up.
We continued talking, and I gave her several suggestions of how to cook baby eggplant. She seemed relieved. In fact, baby eggplant are quite versatile: They can be grilled, broiled, sauteed or baked and pair well with Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean flavors.
Here are eight great ways to enjoy baby eggplant:
1. Make eggplant chips: Slice paper-thin, toss in olive oil and salt and bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until crisp.
2. Broil 'em: Thinly slice, brush with olive oil and broil until browned. Douse with fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper and sprinkle with finely chopped fresh mint or basil.
3. Stuff 'em: Cut off the tops and scoop out the flesh. Saute flesh with olive oil and shallots and transfer to a bowl. Add some bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, egg, salt and crushed red pepper. Mix together and stuff eggplants. Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender.
4. Glaze 'em: Thinly slice and broil or grill until tender and brown. Drizzle with a warm balsamic-honey reduction and sprinkle with chopped fresh rosemary.
5. Saute 'em: Saute thin slices in olive oil until browned and tender. Toss with goat cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and mint.
6. Pickle 'em: Pickled eggplant is a unique addition to an antipasto platter. Check out these pickled eggplant recipes from Punk Domestics.
7. Grill 'em: Slice slightly thicker and brush with olive oil. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until lightly charred. Serve with Romesco sauce or drizzle with a balsamic reduction.
8. Curry 'em: Cut into chunks and saute in olive oil with diced onions and chilies. Add Indian curry powder or other spices such as garam masala and turmeric. Add coconut milk and a thickening agent such as cornstarch, and cook until sauce is thickened. Serve over basmati or jasmine rice.
Or make the Asian Chicken and Baby Eggplant recipe below.
Asian Chicken and Baby Eggplant with Toasted Sesame Seeds and Cashews
Makes 4 servings
4 (1/2 -pound pieces) of boneless, skinless chicken breast (2 pounds total)
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
Juice 1 lime
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup wild rice or brown rice
2 1/2 cups water
10 to 12 baby eggplant, stems removed, and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
2 scalions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons roasted unsalted (or salted, if you prefer) cashew halves
1. In a large Ziploc bag or tightly closed container, add chicken and marinade ingredients and shake well. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours or up to 6 hours.
2. Place rice and water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, partially cover and cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked through yet still firm.
3. Take chicken out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before cooking. In a large non-skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Add the chicken. Cook for 4 minutes without touching. Flip and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil and eggplant slices. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the eggplant begins to soften and brown. Add the scallions and cilantro, and stir. Cook until the chicken is nicely browned all over and the eggplant is tender. Spread rice evenly on a serving dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds and cashews, and, if desired, chopped fresh cilantro.
Susan Russo is a free lance food writer in San Diego, California. She publishes stories, recipes, and photos on her cooking blog, <Food Blogga and is a regular contributor to NPR’s <Kitchen Window. She is also the author of Recipes Every Man Should Know and The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches.