With its hard purple exterior and (sometimes) large size, the eggplant can be a bit intimidating for anyone who has never cooked with it. There are quite a few varieties, as well as a large number of ways to prepare it - and subsequently, screw it up. Failure to brine your eggplant may result in a mushy mess and overcooking, or under-seasoning will leave you with a bland dish that will probably find its way to the garbage can.
Eggplants contain an impressive number of vitamins and minerals, making it a great way to get a significant amount of nutrients into your body. It provides excellent amounts of fiber, folate, and potassium, as well as vitamins C, K, and B6, as well as phosphorous, copper and magnesium. It is a relatively low-calorie vegetable, and its mild flavor lends its well to a myriad of recipes and flavor profiles.
A perfectly grilled eggplant. woodleywonderworks / Flickr
Start off by peeling off the shiny outer shell, cutting the dense, meaty flesh into 3/4 inch slices or larger cubes for kabobs.For a simple side dish, cut the eggplant into strips.
You'll want to get some oil or butter (we prefer the latter along with salt, pepper, and other seasonings, and slather it across your cut up eggplant. Place it on the grill and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until tender, turning and basting with the butter/oil mixture as needed.
Grilled eggplant is a tasty way to get your five a day, especially in the summer when the weather is beautiful and you've got the grill fired up. You can top them with any number of seasonings, with some outstanding options being oil and garlic, Jamaican jerk seasoning, and even an oil and anchovy vinaigrette. Skewer the larger cubes onto a kebab, along with tofu and any other grilled vegetable of your choice. Or, substitute the flesh for a burger for a healthful and delicious Meatless Monday dinner.
As most eggplant lovers know, our purple friend can err on the side of bitter. Fortunately, there is a simple two-step method of brining the eggplant that is used to achieve tenderly baked eggplant (and help it hold its shape). Begin by cutting the eggplant into whatever shape and size you prefer, trimming the ends and stem in the process.
In a large bowl, you'll want to add about a tablespoon of sea salt into 1/2 cup of water. Let it dissolve. Once fully dissolved, pour in four to six cups of cold water and mix well. Put your eggplant slices or cubes into the salt water mixture, placing a lid on top of the bowl to keep the eggplant submerged. Let them sit for about 30 minutes; a process called brining. This uses the power of osmosis to help the eggplant retain its moisture and keep its shape during cooky. The alternative is a bland, mushy mess.
Drain the eggplant and pat it dry with paper towels. Lay it on a baking sheet in a single layer, ideally placing them side by side for even cooking. Lightly brush both sides with an oil of your choice (olive, sesame, and avocado oil are all great options here), and place them in an oven heated to 375. Bake until the downside is browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the pieces over and bake another 10 minutes or so, when that side is browned as well.
Baked eggplant can be thrown into yummy recipes such as eggplant parmesan (adding the simple step of breading,) and eggplant salad, mixed into a Middle Eastern dish known as Baba Ganoush, or served on its own sprinkled with salt and pepper and an additional layer of oil.
Eggplant stuffed to the brim. ma_shimaro / Flickr
Another fan favorite, stuffed eggplant can be combined with practically anything to make an excellent, filling meal.
Start by cutting the eggplant in half and scooping out the center for boiling - be sure to leave a tiny layer of meat inside the "shell" so it can retain its shape. Boil the flesh until very soft, about 10 to 12 minutes.
In a bowl, mix the cooked eggplant and a filling of your choice. There is a myriad of options and recipes available, including this beef and Pecorino stuffed eggplant and a Moroccan-style lentil and tomato filling. Fill the scooped out eggplant halves with the mixture of your choosing, dividing it evenly amongst the two halves.
Add any extra seasoning you may need, and place on an oiled oven tray or baking dish, and bake until the filling is thoroughly cooked through. Let cool and serve!
Stir-fried eggplant. Ziggy Liloia / Flickr
Another simple way to cook eggplant and give it that crispy finish is by stir-frying. You'll want to cut your eggplant in half lengthwise, then cut diagonally into 1/2 inch slices. Use the brining method listed above to minimize any mushy eggplant mess happening later on.
Here's where you can go your own way. From Asian-inspired eggplant to purple, garlicky deliciousness, the eggplant lends its flavors well to a variety of different flavors and fusions. Pick a recipe according to the desires of your taste buds, and add it to a bowl with your cut up eggplant. Mix well.
Heat up a wok or nonstick skillet over high heat, adding vegetable oil and any seasonings you prefer. Stir fry until the eggplant is tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, about 5 to 10 minutes depending on the recipe.
Toss your stir-fried eggplant with any grain of your choice - quinoa, couscous, even barley works here - or enjoy it as a standalone meal.
Eggplant braised to perfection. chitgoks / Flickr
A combination cooking method that uses both wet and dry heats, this is arguably one of the best cooking methods for an eggplant. The stir-frying combined with boiling methods gives the eggplant a chance to pick up other flavors while becoming fork tender and delicious.
There are plenty of recipes available, but they all begin by placing the cut up eggplant into a well-oiled pan over high heat on the stovetop. Add your spices and seasonings and cook, occasionally stirring, until the eggplant is lightly softened and fragrant. Then you will mix in your water and other wet ingredients, bringing everything to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, uncovered, stirring until eggplant is tender and liquid has reduced by about half, about 15 minutes depending on your recipe.
Favorite recipes include this Asian-inspired braised eggplant with garlic and basil and this fresh tomato and braised eggplant dish.