I think eggplants are the most elegant of all vegetables. These beautiful shiny purple vegetables/fruit, which are also often called aubergines, star in some of my favourite recipes.
Eggplants are abundant in local farmer’s markets at the end of a long hot Waikato summer.
An enduring memory of my brief visit to Rome was an antipasto table featuring eggplant (melanzane in Italian) prepared in five delicious ways.
I know that many people don’t appreciate eggplants. I think this is partly because eggplants can be pretty unappetising, when they’re not cooked with care and appreciation.
My mother, Sue, didn’t know how to make the best of eggplants. Although she was a pretty good cook in most respects. When I was little, some of our family meals were marred by my refusal to eat her “slimy yucky” eggplant.
Eggplants belong to the Solenaceae family. This diverse and interesting plant clan includes tomatoes, chillies, capsicums, potatoes and cape gooseberries. And also tobacco, nightshade, datura, and petunias.
Eggplants thrive in the warmer climates of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, India and South-East Asia. There are many great eggplant recipes from cultures in those regions.
Eggplants don’t feature in traditional English cooking, or northern European cuisine in general.
7 eggplant tips
- Eggplants come in various shapes and sizes, big egg-shaped ones and small curly eggplant and everything in between. They all taste similar to me.
- Eggplants don’t keep more than a few days in the fridge or at room temperature. When you have abundant eggplant, turn them into caponata or ratatouille or pickle within 24 hours. See below for recipes.
- Eggplants go particularly well with fresh basil.
- Eggplant cubes are a great addition to any tomato-based sauce, and also most curries. Allow at least half an hour for the eggplant cubes to cook.
- You can’t eat eggplant raw unless it’s been marinated for a long period, as in the kimchi recipe below.
- Many recipes recommend peeling eggplant and sprinkling it with salt before cooking, “to remove the bitter taste”. I’ve never found this to be necessary. The types of eggplant grown in New Zealand aren’t bitter.
- Eggplants aren’t fast food. They need careful and thoughtful slow cooking and preparation.
Probably the best-known eggplant dishes are moussaka and eggplant parmigiana. These are superb special occasion meals.
Properly made moussaka and eggplant parmigiana both take well over an hour of preparation (not counting cooking time) and lots of rich ingredients, including eggs and good quality cheese.
5 top eggplant recipes
These are my five favourite eggplant recipes.
None of these recipes is hugely time consuming.
Caponata – Italian eggplant salad
Make this ahead of time – it tastes even better the next day.
You need a couple of big eggplants.
Cut into 2cm cubes (don’t bother about peeling).
Toss the eggplant cubes in 4 tablespoons olive oil.
To cook the cubes, either place in a shallow oven pan and bake in a medium oven until they are soft but not mushy. Or, cook in a heavy frying pan or a wok on a medium heat. If using a frying pan, cook the eggplant cubes in two or three batches.
When cooked, place the eggplant cubes in a large bowl and add dressing and some torn up basil leaves – a handful if you have lots of basil, but just a couple of leaves will make a difference.
Place in a small jar 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 cloves of garlic, very finely minced, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, ¼ tsp mustard powder and salt and pepper to taste.
Optional additions at serving time: 1 tablespoon capers; 1 thinly sliced red capsicum, either raw or chargrilled; 2 tablespoons of cubed feta
Put a small bowl of this delectable pickle on the table with any Asian-style meal.
This is adapted from a recipe in Home Style Korean Cookery by Cho Joong Ok.
10 small eggplants, or a couple of big ones
salt water – 3/4 cup water mixed with 1 tablespoon salt
Slice eggplant into small strips, approximately 2.5cm x 0.5cm.
Place the eggplant strips in salt water for 1 hour.
Squeeze and drain the eggplant, but don’t rinse.
Mix together in a bowl:
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
3 tablespoons finely chopped spring onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chilli – more or less according to taste
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Place eggplant in a 1 litre glass jar and pour the other ingredients over the top.
Press the eggplant down with a fork. Add a bit more soy sauce if there isn’t enough liquid to cover the eggplant.
Screw a lid on the jar. Let stand one night and then serve. It’s even better after a few days.
This pickle keeps for at least a couple of weeks in the fridge.
This Middle Eastern eggplant dip (or sauce) uses the smooth texture of baked eggplant to great advantage. This recipe comes from Julie Le Clerc.
2 large eggplants -1kg
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of 2 or 3 lemons
Prick eggplant in several places and bake in a hot oven (200 degC) for 30 – 45 minutes or until soft. Remove stems and peel.
Mash flesh with tahini and garlic.
Add juice of 2 – 3 lemons (to taste)
Drizzle with olive oil.
Optional: use yoghurt instead of tahini
Ivy’s aubergine fritters
This is an easy, quick vegetarian main dish. The batter has no eggs or milk. For a gluten-free version, I am planning to try it with chick-pea flour from Bin Inn.
I found this recipe in Dinner at Home, by Lois Daish, who used to write for The Listener. She says it’s originally from northern India.
The batter contains turmeric and baking soda, and the fritters turn a beautiful rusty red when cooked. (I don’t understand the chemistry behind this, because normally turmeric turns food yellow.)
1 cup white flour, or half white and half wholemeal
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric powder – Trade Aid have Fair Trade turmeric
1 large aubergine, or a couple of smaller ones
oil for frying
Place flour, baking soda, salt and turmeric in a bowl. Whisk in enough water to make a batter the consistency of lightly beaten cream. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Wash and dry the aubergine, then cut into rings the thickness of a $1 coin, i.e. not too thin but not too thick either.
Heat enough oil in a frying pan to cover the bottom generously.
Dip the aubergine rings in the batter and fry for a couple of minutes on each side.
If the eggplant hasn’t become soft inside the batter, keep cooking for a few more minutes.
This is enough for 2 or 3 people, depending on the size of the eggplant.
Goes well with rice, salad and chutney or yoghurt for a sauce.
This Provencal dish of vegetables stewed in olive oil is usually served hot with rice or bread. It can also be eaten cold as an hors d’oeuvre.
2 large eggplants
2 red capsicums
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped up
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed roughly in a pestle and mortar
Parsley or basil
Olive oil – at least ¼ cup. You need lots. The oil is important in this dish.
Warm the olive oil in a heavy frying pan.
Chop the onions fine and cook gently in the oil for about 10 minutes.