Varieties in Winter Veggies: Eggplants
White eggplant? You’ll find all kinds of colors and shapes of these South Florida favorites at farmers markets, in CSA boxes and backyard gardens this season.
Fat and round, long and skinny, purple-black or creamy white, taking on a multitude of shapes and colors in between – this versatile staple turns up in multiple cuisines, most notably Italian and Asian. Eggplants can be fried, baked, grilled or stewed, taking the main stage or as a supporting player with other vegetables, sometimes subbing for meat. A member of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family, which includes bell pepper, tomatoes and potatoes, eggplant loves warm weather and grows well here.
A couple of notes on cooking with eggplant: Generally, all but the delicate Asian varieties benefit from salting to bring out any bitter juices – just toss cut eggplant with kosher salt and let it sit for at least half an hour, then drain (some recipes also call for squeezing out as much moisture as you can). Peel the skin from larger eggplants. Make sure to cook eggplant until it’s soft – undercooked eggplant is simply unpleasant. An exception to this rule is when it’s pickled, as in the recipe below.
Serve this spicy dish with basmati rice or as an accompaniment to grilled poultry or meat.
- 8 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 1 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cubed
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon kalonji
- 1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, minced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and seeded and chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup light coconut milk
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and fry until golden. Remove eggplant and set aside. Wipe out skillet with a paper towel. Heat remaining 6 tablespoons oil and add cumin and kalonji. Cook for a few minutes over medium heat until cumin turns golden. Lower heat and add ginger and garlic. Cook for one minute. Add onions and pepper and cook, stirring often, until onion is golden.
Add tomato, coriander, turmeric and salt. Cook and stir for 2 minutes, Add cooked eggplant. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and heat through. Top with cilantro.
PICKLED EGGPLANT (MELANZANE SOTT’OLIO)
1 large jar
Take advantage of the season's bounty by preserving eggplant. Adjust tanginess by adding more or less vinegar to taste.
- 2 pounds Asian eggplant
- Kosher salt
- 3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 fresh hot pepper, sliced in half lengthwise
- 3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, cut in thin strips
- Extra virgin olive oil
Peel eggplant and cut in thin strips about 1/4-inch thick. Toss with 3 tablespoons kosher salt and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Drain thoroughly. Take a handful of eggplant and squeeze as much liquid out of it. Repeat with all eggplant.
Combine eggplant with garlic, vinegar and basil leaves and combine thoroughly, Place eggplant in a jar, tuck hot peppers inside, and add olive oil to cover. Cover and refrigerate. After a few hours, you may have to add more olive oil. This is ready to serve immediately and keeps for a month or two in the refrigerator, but serve at room temperature.