Eggplant can be, perhaps not unsurprisingly, a polarizing vegetable. While they don’t have an especially sharp or strong flavor on their own, many people aren’t fond of their texture. It’s true that eggplants can become soft and mushy when cooked, but we say that it’s time to embrace eggplant texture as creamy and decadent, rather than mushy!
If you’re already on team eggplant, or ready to give the purple veggie another try, let’s talk about everything you need to know to select, store and cook with eggplants.
What Are Eggplants: History and Varieties
Eggplants are a member of the nightshade family, which also induces tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes.
They were first grown in Asia or Africa, but today, eggplants are harvested throughout the world. And they’re popular in cuisines from all over as well, from England to Thailand to California.
Also known as aubergines, eggplants come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Globe eggplants are probably the most recognizable. They’re the large dark purple variety. Other colorings include purple and white stripes, light lavender eggplants, and even white ones, called Caspers or Easter Eggs.
For the most part, eggplant flavor doesn’t vary widely between colors and sizes, though it can be fun to cook with other varieties. Larger eggplants tend to contain more water, while small ones can be sweeter, thanks to a more concentrated flavor.
How Do I Choose the Best Eggplant?
When selecting the best eggplant for freshness and flavor, look for one that’s heavy and shiny with a deep color. Any extra-dark or rough patches on the skin are signs of bruising, so skip those.
Storing Eggplants For Longest Shelf-Life
To keep your eggplant fresh for as long as possible, store it in the crisper drawer of your fridge. As soon as you bring it home, wrap it in a dry paper towel. Then store it in perforated or slightly open plastic or paper bag in the crisper drawer. It should last for up to 5 days this way.
As soon as you notice any signs of damage, however, you should eat the eggplant. It doesn’t last long when it starts to bruise or rot.
Can I Freeze Eggplant?
If you end up with more eggplant than you can use, freeze it. First, cook the eggplant by quickly blanching or steaming it. Then spread the cooked pieces out on a baking sheet and freeze for at least an hour, until they’re solid. Transfer the frozen eggplant to an airtight container and freeze for up to 6 months.
You can add frozen eggplant into sauces, soups, and stews. Note that it won’t crisp up again, so avoid stir-fries or pizzas, but frozen eggplant still brings that silky, smooth texture to heartier dishes.
Eggplant Cooking Tips & Tricks
Eggplants are spongy, which means that they readily absorb flavor, but also that they have a high water content. A lot of water means that eggplants release a lot of moisture as they cook. In the kitchen, moisture is the enemy of delicious things like crispy, crunchy, and browned.
However, there are some simple tricks to preparing eggplant to encourage crispiness, rather than mushiness.
If you’re making a dish that you don’t want to be too watery, or you’re looking for a beautiful sear on your eggplant, salt it first to draw out moisture.
First, slice the eggplant into the shape you plan to eat it. For example, if you’re making a ratatouille, cut your eggplant into half-moons. If you’re making a fast stir-fry and want the vegetables to cook quickly, chop them into ½-inch cubes. For grilled eggplant, cut planks.
Next, place the cut eggplant in a colander in the sink. Liberally sprinkle it with salt and toss to coat. Then, stand back. Let the eggplant sit in its salt rub for up to 30 minutes, and at least 10. The salt draws moisture out of the eggplant. So the longer it sits, the less watery your eggplant will be.
After about 30 minutes, take a clean dish towel and gently squeeze the eggplants to extract any more water. You can also brush off the salt at this point. It won’t all come off, so remember that when you’re seasoning your dish.
Next, you’re ready to cook up some beautifully browned eggplant that just might turn some skeptics into fans.