Cooking with eggplant
This article was originally published in September 2013
How to pick a great eggplant
For many, eggplant remains a glossy purple mystery. How do you transform it from fresh and spongy to the glorious silky texture and complex flavors we enjoy at restaurants? We asked PCC Cooks instructor Uma Bangalore, a lifelong eggplant fan, for her top cooking tips.
Uma grew up in her native India enjoying eggplant cooked by her mother and grandmother in complex sauces based on onions, peanuts, sesame seeds and coconut. Upon moving to America, she’s added Italian-style breaded and fried Eggplant Parmesan to her repertoire, along with a very simple dish that hails from China — Strange Flavor Eggplant, an easy, sweet, salty and sour entrée that calls for baked eggplant.
Uma’s top tips
- Look for a bright green stalk (this indicates freshness)
- Check for glossy skin, free of brown or soft spots
- When you pick it up, it should feel heavy for its size
- Avoid the biggest of the bunch; smaller eggplants typically are more tender
- Typically it’s only necessary to salt or peel eggplant when cooking with overgrown or overripe globes.
- To maximize flavor when sautéing, cook over medium-high heat without crowding the pan and avoid unnecessary stirring so that it caramelizes sweetly and does not absorb too much oil.
- An eggplant should be fully cooked to enjoy its true flavor; a partially cooked eggplant is not very palatable. An easy way to cook an eggplant is to bake it in the oven or fire-roast it. When done, set on a plate to cool, halve the eggplant lengthwise, and use a spoon to scrape out the insides, avoiding as much of the outer skin as possible. (See sidebar for cooking tips.)
Tips for cooking
To bake a whole eggplant, brush eggplant with olive oil, pierce a few times with a fork, wrap in foil and bake in a 375° F to 400° F oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until a knife sinks through easily. To fire-roast a whole eggplant, brush very lightly with olive oil and set atop a gas stove or BBQ grill over a low flame, turning regularly to avoid burning, until you feel it’s cooked inside. Then char its outside to create that smoky flavor.