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Joyce Goldstein discusses the importance of building family traditions centered on food in chefs@home.

Try recipes for Pasta with Roasted Eggplant and Tomato, Curried Eggplant and Eggplant Parmesan Style.

Cooking Class

The Eggplant
by Joyce Goldstein

It's dark and mysterious, a deep regal purple and alluringly pear shaped. At the market I see people look at these beautiful shining globes and then walk away. They admire but they don't buy. Why? Because most home cooks don't know what to do with eggplant. There are myths and taboos: To peel or not to peel. To salt or not to salt. To fry or to bake.

Like the tomato, the eggplant is a fruit (actually a giant berry) that is eaten as a vegetable. Although we think of it as the quintessential Mediterranean food, it came to Europe via India, although some say China. And what about that name? Egg-plant. The earliest eggplant were round and white, shaped like, you guessed it, eggs. In fact these small white eggplants are starting to appear at farmer's markets and ethnic markets.

Eggplants come in a few easy to find varieties. By far the most familiar is the globe eggplant, the large oval purple ones, called aubergines in Europe. Smaller globes are known as Italian eggplants. Then there are the small, oblong purple japanese eggplant, and the lighter purple and striped Asian varieties. And now you can find small round purple and white eggplants as well.

When shopping for eggplants look for firm, unbruised skin, and select those that are heavy for their size. It means they have fewer seeds. When you get them home do not store them in plastic as it makes them spoil and get slimy. Keep them in a paper bag in the refrigerator.

How to Cook Eggplant

Eggplants are really easy to cook. In the old days they had a tendency to be bitter and required some salting to release these bitter juices. That is not the case today. However, if you plan to fry eggplants, salting causes them to release excess moisture and they will absorb less oil. Do not slice them too far in advance as they will darken in color.

Eggplants can be baked in the oven just as you'd bake a potato. This is the way to make chopped eggplant salads and a fat free way to cook eggplant for pasta sauces and soups. Just prick with a fork in a few places, place on a baking sheet and bake in a 450 oven, turning occasionally until the eggplants are soft all over. Then peel, drain the flesh in a colander and discard any large seed pockets as the seeds are bitter and unpleasant to the tooth. (Those seeds are not the reason a dish of chopped cooked eggplant is called eggplant "caviar!")

Eggplants can be cooked under the broiler, turning for even softening. They can be cooked over moderate heat on a cast iron stovetop griddle, again, turning from time to time until they are uniformly soft. Peel, drain, remove seeds, and then dice, chop or mash as directed for the recipe of choice.

They also can be peeled and sliced and sauteed in olive oil. Add as little oil as possible and use a non-stick pan. Eggplants are cooked when the flesh is translucent. Any white areas means that part of the eggplant is raw and needs more cooking, and, alas, probably a bit more oil. You also can slice them and arrange on an oiled baking sheet, brush with oil and bake, turning the slices and brushing them with oil one more time until they are cooked through.

Try Joyce Goldstein's Recipes:

Pasta with Roasted Eggplant and Tomatoes
Curried Eggplant
Melanzane alla Parmigiana - Eggplant Parmesan Style

About Joyce Goldstein

Joyce Goldstein is a consultant to the restaurant and food industries. For 12 years she was chef/owner of the ground- breaking, award-winning Mediterranean restaurant SQUARE ONE in San Francisco. In addition, she taught cooking for 18 years. Joyce is the author of many cookbooks, including Back to Square One: Old World Food in a New World Kitchen, winner of both the Julia Child and James Beard Awards for Best General Cookbook of 1992 and Cucina Ebraica, Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen. Two more books on Mediterranean Jewish cooking are in the works.


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