Credit: McBeth/Flickr
Like potatoes, eggplant’s versatility comes from its blandness.  When it is cooked, it easily falls apart into a soft puree, which adds creaminess and a comforting texture.  Eggplant is often used as a medium for other flavors. Eggplant also contains fiber, Vitamin B6, folate, niacin, and thiamin as well as potassium, magnesium and calcium. There is research currently being done which shows that eggplant contains many of the phenolic compounds that are known to act as antioxidants in our bodies.  In fact the bitterness comes from these compounds. The skin of eggplant also contains anthocyanins, which are the dark blue or purple pigment that give the skin of the eggplant its beautiful color.  Anthocyanins are thought to protect against free radicals.

Eggplant is available for purchase all year long but there is nothing to compare to fresh eggplant just off the vine during the late summer.  At the farmers market you will be able to find eggplants in a variety of shapes and sizes, they can be purple, white, red or green, striped or solid.  Those eggplants that are smaller and lighter color tend to have a milder flavor.  They also have a thinner more tender skin.  There are only slight differences in flavor between the cultivars and not much difference in texture so you can substitute any type of eggplant in a recipe. 

When purchasing eggplant buy fruits that are firm and heavy for their size.  The skin should be smooth and tight.  You don’t want to but a wrinkly blemished eggplant because as they age they become increasingly bitter.

Eggplant is botanically a fruit, but unlike many other fruits, you don’t take it home and expect it to ripen further.  It is picked at its peak ripeness and should be consumed shortly after it is harvested.  When you get it home, store it in the refrigerator – but be careful because they are sensitive to chilling injury if your refrigerator is too cold.  To prevent them from wilting from too much water loss, wrap them in perforated plastic wrap and don’t store them for longer then about 7 days.  

When you are ready to cook the eggplant you first have to decide if you want to peel it or not.  The skin doesn’t always soften completely when it is cooked and some people object to the texture it lends to certain preparations, but the mineral content is higher in the skin than in the flesh, so you don't want to miss out on the nutritional benefits unless the recipe really requires peeling the eggplant! Many cooks salt their eggplant before cooking it. To salt an eggplant, slice it into pieces, or cut it in half lengthwise and score it with a knife in a cross hatch pattern – sprinkle it very liberally with salt and let it drain in a colander for about an hour – some people like to place a bowl of top of it to weigh it down.  After it is finished draining rinse it in water to remove the salt and then pat it dry with paper towels.

Recipes: Ratatouille, Stuffed Eggplant