Get to know the basics of cooking this dark, mysterious nightshade.
Like other veggies, eggplants come in many varieties, but the two types you’ll find most often are Globe and Japanese. The Globe is the dark purple, bulbous variety most used in Western and Mediterranean eggplant cooking. Japanese (and Chinese as well) eggplant is long and slender, in paler colors. Flavor and texture differences are subtle.
To Salt or Not To Salt:
Some cooks insist that eggplant flesh should be sprinkled with salt and left to stand for about an hour, then rinsed and squeezed dry, all in an effort to eliminate bitterness. If you usually find eggplant to be offputtingly bitter, you may want to add this step to your prep method. But for many of us, eggplants aren’t bitter, particularly when in season. And that salting/rinsing/squeezing routine adds lots of time to the cooking process and seems to needlessly mess with its water content and texture. When it’s fully cooked and seasoned, summer eggplant is rarely bitter.
How to Cook:
The more tender eggplant becomes as it cooks, the better it tastes. Unlike many summer veggies, eggplant is a disappointment if cooked al dente—the raw flesh is too spongy and astringent to enjoy until it’s fully softened. If it were a steak, you’d be cooking it well done for optimum taste and texture. And the window for doneness is pretty big here (a baked or grill-roasted Globe eggplant cooked until fully tender might take half an hour, but won’t start to dry out for another 10 minutes or so), so don’t sweat the timing too much.
How to Use:
Because eggplant is best when cooked until creamy-tender, it works great in recipes like Baba Ghanoush and Eggplant Caviar where it’s mashed. But it also adds wonderful savory, meaty flavor to a grilled vegetable plate, and it’s a classic move to stuff it for a self-contained meal.