Eggplant is a heat-loving crop native to India, and comes in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Some 18th-century European varieties were yellow or white and resembled goose or hen’s eggs, hence the name “eggplant”. Eggplant is widely used in cooking, most notably as an important ingredient in Mediterranean dishes such as moussaka and ratatouille.
How do you know when it is ready to harvest?
Eggplant is another one of those vegetables that is easy to answer with “When it looks like what you see at the grocery store.” However, size is not always an indication of maturity, so it is best to feel the eggplant to be sure. Hold it in your palm and gently press it with your thumb. If the flesh presses in but bounces back, it is ready to harvest. If the flesh is hard and does not give, it is still too young to pick. If the thumb indentation remains, the eggplant is over-ripe and may be completely brown inside and bitter, with large tough seeds. Pick it and discard if this is the case. You can also tell if an eggplant is ripe when it is shiny. Below, the glossiest dark purple eggplant on the left is ready to pick. The light purple eggplant on the right is dull and needs several more days to ripen. The darker purple and white eggplant at the bottom is just starting to “shine up” and will be ready in a day or two.
How do you pick it it?
Eggplant stems are often thorny and do not separate from the plant easily. To pick eggplant, cut the stem with a pair of snips.
How do you store it?
Eggplant is best when eaten fresh, unrefrigerated. You can store it for up to one week on the counter at a cool room temperature. If you need it to keep longer, you can store it loose in the fridge. Only wash right before eating, as the extra moisture can cause it to go bad quickly. Careful when handling eggplant, as they bruise easily, and once bruised they will turn brown and start to taste bitter.
How do you cook it?
Wash the eggplant just before use. If it is fresh, it does not need to be peeled, however older eggplants will develop tougher skin and may need to be peeled. Once cut, the flesh will turn brown very quickly when exposed to air, so make sure only to cut it just before use. The browning process can be slowed by soaking the pieces in ice water or coating them with lemon juice or vinegar (similar to apples in this way). Eggplants act like sponges, and therefore will absorb oil very easily. To keep them from getting greasy while cooking, it is advised to cut the eggplant into chunks or rounds and sprinkle salt over them, letting it sit for 30-60 minutes. Dry off the excess moisture with a paper towel and then cook as desired. Eggplant is delicious baked, stuffed, steamed, fried, roasted, or sautéed and can be made into a variety of dishes such as dips, stews, sauces, and casseroles.
Grilled eggplant dip
2 large eggplants (about 2 pounds)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, minced
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
3 to 4 TB fresh lemon juice
2 TB nonfat yogurt
2 TB extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1. Prick the eggplants in a few spots with a fork. Grill them over a medium flame, turning often, until the skin is charred on all sides and the flesh is soft, 20-30 minutes; OR roast in oven at 425 degrees until soft, about 45 minutes. Let cool.
2. Halve the eggplants lengthwise; scoop out the flesh. Puree the flesh in a food processor, or finely chop it by hand. Mix the garlic, green onions and parsley with the eggplant. Add the lemon juice, yogurt, olive oil and cumin. Season with the salt and pepper to taste.
Note: a similar greek dip, Babaghanouj (pronounced ba-ba-ga-noosh) can be made by substituting tahini for the non-fat yogurt in this recipe. Tahini is a paste made of sesame seeds, and can be found in the international food aisles of most grocery stores, or at Mediterranean or Middle- Eastern markets