One of the most often asked questions at the farmers market is, “What does an eggplant taste like?”
It is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Eggplants have an absorbent, spongy flesh, and it absorbs the flavors of other ingredients, making it a great addition to many savory dishes.
The skin can have a slightly bitter flavor that is more noticeable in overmature fruit. (Yes, eggplants are considered fruit.)
It is important to purchase young, freshly picked eggplant. When young, the small seeds are soft and do not impart any flavor. Older eggplants will have harder seeds that can be bitter due to the alkaloids they contain.
Ripe eggplants are firm and have a glossy skin. Overripe eggplants tend to be bitter, and the seeds will be noticeably brown.
Some recipes call for salting eggplant cubes or slices to remove any bitterness. I can usually avoid this step, because I pick the eggplants right before preparation.
There are recipes that call for peeling the skin, but I would only recommend that if the eggplants are overripe when the skin could be tough and bitter.
Another method for getting rid of any bitterness is to soak eggplant slices in milk for a half-hour. The milk is said to temper the bitterness, and it will make the flesh extra creamy, because its spongy texture will soak up the milk.
Eggplants do not thrive in temperatures below 50 degrees. Since cold temperatures were late to arrive this year, I picked fresh eggplants until autumn nighttime temperatures dropped. I had more than I could use at one time.
Eggplants can be briefly stored in the refrigerator, but they will last longer if stored in a cool area away from heat and sunlight. I kept my eggplants in the unheated garage until I was ready to use them.
I tried several new eggplant recipes this fall. A favorite was this Eggplant Salad (with Parsley, Sultanas and Pine Nuts).
1 lb. eggplant
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons pine nuts (toasted)
3 tablespoons sultanas or raisins
A big handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 425°.
Cut eggplant into cubes and toss thoroughly with the olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Spread the eggplant on a large baking tray in one layer. Bake in oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until cubes are golden and soft. Cool to room temperature.
In a bowl, mix eggplant cubes and remaining ingredients. Check seasoning. Serve at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6.