Everything to Know About Cooking and Shopping for In Season Eggplant

Lisa Arnicke

Contributor

The best way to shop? With the seasons. So, every 2 weeks at Kitchen Stories, we’ll be highlighting a different in-season ingredient along with 3 new recipes. To market, we go!

Beloved around the world, and by meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike, eggplant plays starring roles as well as it does support acts. With different varieties that may be glossy, round, or speckled, the eggplant family is a truly versatile one.

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1. Hello, my name is eggplant

The eggplant is part of the nightshade family and is so-called for its oval or teardrop shape. It's also known as aubergine or brinjal in different parts of the world. From the botanical view, it’s actually a berry, but that doesn’t mean you should eat it as a raw snack!

It also doesn’t mean it’s any less healthy: eggplants contain a lot of different minerals and nutrients like potassium and manganese and has great nutritional value. Moreover, the eggplant contains a high amounts of caffeic acid, which has an anti-oxidative and anti-microbial effect.

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The most common eggplant stocked in your average supermarket is probably the oval-shaped, tear drop variety and violet to black in color. However, a farmers market will likely give you the full taste of interesting eggplant varieties that are grown all over: some long and as thin as carrots, some round, some egg-shaped, some speckled. Mass-farmed varieties are often milder tasting than many of these variants, which can be more bitter, which is why many traditional recipes call for salting eggplants before cooking to mellow them out.

2. When to buy eggplants

Believe it or not, but eggplants are actually only in season from August to October. Even if we’re able to buy them all year long, eggplant season is a short season. They love warmth and fresh air even more than tomatoes and bell peppers, which is why they ripen perfectly between August and September.

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The US and Mexico are big eggplant producers, with New Jersey actually considered the eggplant growing capital of the world. Farmers use sheets to cover and protect the harvest to extend eggplant season.

3. How to find and store the perfect eggplant

The perfect eggplant has a taut, glossy skin and a fresh green stem. They should have some weight to them and feel firm. If the vegetable doesn’t ease a little bit when touched (your fingers should make an impression that quickly fades), it’s been picked too early and it is unripe. If an eggplant has too much give or has dark, brown spots, it’s overripe.

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The ideal preparation tip for eggplants is: Try to use them immediately, since they don’t remain fresh for too long. It’s too cold for them inside the vegetable compartment, so it’s best to keep them at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. Just don’t store them with tomatoes or apples – the eggplant is a bit of a lone ranger and tends to mold faster next to fruit and vegetables which release a natural gas that speeds up the ripening process.

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If you accidently buy an unripe eggplant, store it at room temperature for 2 – 3 days and let it ripen, when it will decrease in solanine content, too. Solanine is a poisonous compound that is present in small quantities in vegetables like potatoes and eggplants. However, never fear: Humans have consumed many an eggplant over the years and the average adult would have to eat in the range of 36 whole eggplants in one sitting for it to be poisonous.

4. How to Prepare Eggplants

Most recipes call for skin-on eggplants. That’s why you should always rinse them thoroughly under water. Then cut off the green head—it is bitter in taste and shouldn’t be eaten. The eggplant is a versatile vegetable which is so popular, especially for vegans and vegetarians, because of its meaty and firm texture. You can fry them, fill them with a plant, grain, or meat-based filling, cook them, bake, grill, marinate, or even purée eggplants. They go perfectly as antipasti, roasted in the oven, with some balsamic vinegar or garlic yogurt, and star in many Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian recipes, as well as dishes from the Indian subcontinent.

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What’s your favorite eggplant recipe? Tell us in the comments and upload a picture of your berry best creation for all to enjoy!

5. What To Make Next

All week long, we’ll be featuring new eggplant recipes on Kitchen Stories. Check back to see what’s new, then try one for yourself! Here’s where to start:

Classic eggplant moussaka

Classic eggplant moussaka

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Eggplant fries with limey dill dip

Eggplant fries with limey dill dip

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Eggplant cordon bleu with tomato and bread salad

Eggplant cordon bleu with tomato and bread salad

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