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Eggplant 101: How to Select, Store, and Cook Them

by Susan Russo
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egg-plantOf all the fabulous and quirky names out there such as aubergine, brinjal, melanzane, and egg apple, we had to go with "eggplant." It's such a dull name to describe such a singular vegetable. (Botanically, it's a fruit, but we all use it as a vegetable, so let's go with that.)

Why "eggplant"? Apparently some 18th century European cultivars resembled goose or hen's eggs, so planters called them "eggplants."

Eggplants have a long history. They are native to India where they were first cultivated over 4,000 years ago. During the Middle Ages Arabs introduced eggplant to the Mediterranean region. Eventually European explorers introduced eggplant to places such as Africa and North America. Today China, India, and Egypt are the world's leading producers of eggplant.

Eggplants are available year-round in most major supermarkets, but they are best during August-October, their prime growing season. So here are some tips on how to select, store, and cook with eggplant:

 

How do you select eggplant?

  • Look for glossy, richly colored skin that is free of dimples and bruises. Pick it up. It should be firm and heavy for its size. Gently squeeze it; it should give slightly. Avoid either rock hard or squishy eggplants.

How do you store eggplant?

  • Store unwashed, uncut eggplant in the crisper drawer for up to 2-3 days. Once you cut the eggplant, the flesh will begin to oxidize, or turn brown. That's okay. It's not bad, just not pretty. If, however, you cut into the eggplant, and it's already streaked with brown, or the seeds are blackened, then toss it. It's old.

How do you prepare and cook eggplant?

  • Rinse the eggplant with water, and cut off the green top. Use a very sharp knife; otherwise, the rubbery skin will make slicing difficult.
  • Many people swear by "sweating" raw eggplant before cooking it; that is, sprinkling it with salt and letting it rest for 30 minutes, to remove the bitterness. I have done it and have never noticed any significant difference. To me, it's more important to by a fresh eggplant.
  • Eggplant can be steamed, sauteed, roasted, broiled, baked, or grilled.

What are the health benefits of eating eggplant?

  • 1 cup of eggplant is only 27 calories and is a very good source of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, and vitamins B1 and B6.

What can you do with eggplant?

Of all the cooking methods, grilling may be the kindest to eggplant. The intense heat lightly chars the outside of the eggplant, lending it an irresistible smokiness, yet keeping the flesh deliciously tender and creamy. These Grilled Eggplant Napoleons are ideal for a dinner party -- they're a breeze to make yet make a grand impression.

eggplantnapoleonGrilled Eggplant Napoleons
Makes 4 servings
Print recipe only here.

Dressing:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
a generous sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Eggplant:
2 medium eggplant, sliced into 3/4-inch rounds, about 20 slices total
1-2 tablespoons olive oil for brushing eggplant
a generous sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large beefsteak tomatoes (or large heirloom tomatoes), sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
1 small bunch of fresh basil
8-10 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds


1. Whisk all dressing ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.

2. Preheat grill to medium high.

3. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place on a hot grill that has been lightly oiled. Grill eggplant for 5-7 minutes per side, or until tender and lightly charred.

4. To assemble stacks, start by placing an eggplant slice on a plate. Top with a slice of cheese, then tomato, then basil. Repeat one more time. End with a slice of eggplant. Repeat with remaining ingredients until 4 stacks are made. Drizzle with dressing, and serve immediately.

Variations:
Drizzle with basil pesto.
Substitute arugula for basil.
Add slices of roasted red pepper.
Add olive tapenade in between layers.

 

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.

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