When eggplant is cooked correctly, it’s silky, creamy, rich, and smoky. It’s basically a miracle. When eggplant is cooked incorrectly, a far more common occurrence, it’s foul. It’s tough, spongy, and generally not worth eating. It’s one of the saddest kitchen failures and one of the most common — right up there with bread and pastries that don’t rise. Depending on how much they love you, fellow diners take one bite and respond with either sympathy or revulsion. Yeah, we’re serious about this. How do you ensure that you cook eggplant correctly every time? Humility and reverence for the eggplant and plenty of time.
Now, about salting and draining: For the love of all things holy, stop salting your eggplant because you think it’s going to remove bitterness. As Russ Parsons says in his book How to Pick a Peach, “Let’s get one thing straight: most eggplants are not bitter (even though they have every right to be after everything that has been said about them).” Salting eggplant will improve texture if you’re frying it, but besides that one application, it’s an old wives’ tale.
Salting removes moisture, but many of the saponins responsible for the bitterness and eggplant’s thirst for oil remain. What we know about salt and taste, scientifically, is that it actively blocks our perception of bitterness. This is explained in Alton Brown’s “The Ballad of Salty and Sweet” episode of Good Eats if you need a graphical representation of the science. A little salt in the dish at any point will help, but this is especially true at the end with finishing salt, because the ions will bind with your tongue’s bitterness receptors from the get-go.
With selective breeding and advances in agricultural science, eggplants have lost much of the bitterness they were once known for. To reduce possible bitterness from the very beginning, what you need to do is buy young, ripe eggplants. When an eggplant is ripe, it will be very shiny and firm. If it’s matte or squishy, step away. The bitterness comes from the flesh around developed seeds, and you don’t want to give the eggplant the chance to over-ripen. Now that you have your shiny eggplants, it’s time to learn to love it with these 7 recipes.
1. Chinese Eggplant With Spicy Garlic Sauce
Both Chinese and Japanese eggplant varieties are long and slender. They have thinner skins and cook much more quickly than a globe or bell eggplant, and the seeds are smaller (which will further assuage bitterness in less fresh eggplants). In this recipe from Steamy Kitchen, they’re cooked briefly and served in a spicy sauce, but do make sure they’re creamy and tender all the way through before removing from the heat. This is great served over rice or noodles.
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
- 3 small eggplants, cut into long strips
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 red chile pepper, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon ginger, finely minced
- 1 stalk green onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon black vinegar or young balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sugar
Directions: In a wok or saucepan over high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil and swirl to coat wok. When wok is hot, add eggplant in a single layer. Cook 1 minute and flip over each piece so they cook evenly. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes, flipping occasionally.
Push eggplant aside in wok and add 1 tablespoon cooking oil. Add garlic, red chile peppers, ginger, and green onion. Stir these aromatics until they become fragrant. Combine aromatics with eggplant and stir fry for 1 minute. Add soy sauce, black vinegar, and sugar and stir to combine all. Serve immediately.
2. Eggplant Parmesan With Fresh Mozzarella
This eggplant parm from Bon Appétit uses the tactic of peeling most but not all of the skin off before cooking the eggplant. This results in eggplant that has melded beautifully with the sauce but doesn’t totally fall apart. This dish requires a long cooking time, but it’s worth it to rid the eggplant of all sponginess. Don’t trust recipes that promise quick cooking globe or bell eggplant — lies, all of them.
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 10 garlic cloves, 2 finely chopped, 8 whole
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 medium or 8 small eggplants, halved lengthwise
- 8 sprigs oregano
- 1¼ cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs
- 12 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
- 3 ounces Parmesan, finely grated
Directions: Heat ¼ cup oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add chopped garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until beginning to darken, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, mashing tomatoes occasionally, until slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Set tomato sauce aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a vegetable peeler, remove skin from rounded side of each eggplant half, leaving a 1-inch strip of skin around the cut edges. Divide eggplants, oregano sprigs, whole garlic cloves, and ½ cup oil between 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Turn eggplants to coat with oil; season with salt and pepper and place cut side down. Cover baking sheets tightly with foil and bake until eggplants are very soft, 40 to 45 minutes.
Toss breadcrumbs and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a medium bowl. Transfer eggplants, oregano, and garlic to 2 large shallow baking dishes, placing eggplants cut side up. Top eggplants with tomato sauce and mozzarella, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Bake until mozzarella is bubbling and breadcrumbs are golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
3. Baba Ganoush
The Serious Eats food lab takes its recipes, well, seriously. In this recipe, Kenji Alt-Lopez transforms the Middle Eastern dip into a lighter, creamier, and more intense version of the classically dense and mediocre dish most of us have resigned ourselves to. There are some important features to this recipe to note. First, Kenji recommends you “cook your eggplants until they’re done, and then cook them some more.” They should be deeply charred and have lost all structure. If the eggplants look like they’re burnt beyond saving, they’re good to go. Second, don’t poke your eggplant before it roasts.
Yes, it will create a loud bang when it “explodes,” but you won’t have to clean eggplant splatter off your oven. The pent-up steam does a better job of cooking the eggplant than punctured eggplant does. It’s also much easier to peel when it’s not poked. Third, drain your cooked eggplant by giving it a gentle spin in your salad spinner. It’s quicker than letting it sit in a sieve and less messy than wringing it out in cheesecloth. Lastly, think about making baba ganoush as an emulsification like mayo or hollandaise. Slowly add the oil and tahini, whisking vigorously and constantly, for a light and creamy dip.
- 3 medium Italian eggplants
- 3 medium cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon, plus more as desired
- 3 tablespoons tahini
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
- Kosher salt
Directions: If you’re going to use a grill or gas burner, which is recommended but requires more attention, preheat to medium heat and place eggplants directly over heat source. Cook, turning occasionally with tongs, until completely tender and well charred on all sides, 30 to 40 minutes. Wrap with foil and let rest 15 minutes.
If using the broiler, adjust rack to 6 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Place eggplant on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning occasionally, until charred on all sides and completely tender, about 1 hour. Eggplants should be very, very tender when cooked. Test near the stem and bottom ends. If a toothpick or skewer meets any resistance, continue cooking. Remove from oven and gather up foil, crimping it around the eggplants to form a sealed package. Let the eggplants rest for 15 minutes.
Open foil package. Working one eggplant at a time, use a sharp paring knife to slit it open lengthwise. Carefully scoop out soft flesh with a large spoon and transfer to a strainer set in a large bowl. Once all eggplant is scooped, pick out any stray bits of skin and blackened flesh and discard.
Transfer eggplant to a salad spinner, distributing it evenly around the perimeter. Spin gently until all excess moisture is extracted. Discard all drippings, wipe out the bowl, and return eggplant to bowl.
Add garlic and lemon juice to eggplant and stir vigorously with a fork until eggplant breaks down into a rough paste, about 1½ minutes. Stirring constantly and vigorously, add the tahini followed by the olive oil in a thin, steady stream. The mixture should become pale and creamy. Stir in parsley and season to taste with salt and more lemon juice, if desired.
Transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and serve with warm pita bread or vegetables for dipping. Baba ganoush can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Let baba ganoush warm to room temperature before serving.
4. Chermoula Eggplant With Bulgur and Yogurt
Chermoula is a North African spice mixture often used to season fish, but here it’s rubbed over eggplant for a deeply flavorful dish. The recipe comes from eggplant whisperer Yotam Ottolenghi, who tops the whole thing with a tabbouleh-esque salad of bulgur wheat and herbs. The recipe comes from his cookbook Jerusalem, here by way of The New York Times.
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon peel, available in stores or online
- ⅔ cup olive oil, plus extra to finish
- 2 medium eggplants
- 1 cup fine bulgur
- ⅔ cup boiling water
- ⅓ cup golden raisins
- 3½ tablespoons warm water
- 2 teaspoons cilantro, chopped, plus extra to finish
- 2 teaspoons mint, chopped
- ⅓ cup pitted green olives, halved
- ⅓ cup sliced almonds, toasted
- 3 green onions, chopped
- 1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
To make the chermoula, mix together in a small bowl the garlic, cumin, coriander, chili, paprika, preserved lemon, ⅔ of the olive oil, and ½ teaspoon salt.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Score the flesh of each half with deep, diagonal crisscross cuts, making sure not to pierce the skin. Spoon the chermoula over each half, spreading it evenly, and place the eggplant halves on a baking sheet, cut side up. Put in the oven and roast for 40 minutes, or until the eggplants are completely soft.
Meanwhile, place the bulgur in a large bowl and cover with the boiling water.
Soak the raisins in the warm water. After 10 minutes, drain the raisins and add them to the bulgur, along with the remaining oil. Add the herbs, olives, almonds, green onions, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
Serve the eggplants warm or at room temperature. Place ½ eggplant, cut side up, on each individual plate. Spoon the bulgur on top, allowing some to fall from both sides. Spoon over some yogurt, sprinkle with cilantro, and finish with a drizzle of oil.
5. Sicilian Caponata
Caponata is a dish of stewed eggplant with capers, olives, and tomatoes. It’s naturally vegan and full of Sicilian pride. This one from Jamie Oliver uses slivered almonds in place of the sometimes harder-to-find and pricier pine nuts. As it’s traditionally a side dish, serve with bread or over pasta to make it a meal. Jamie warns to not cut the eggplant too small, as it will take on too much oil and become soggy. Remember: Don’t be afraid to cook it longer than you think you need to.
- Olive oil
- 2 large eggplants, cut into large chunks
- 1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
- 1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and stalks finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed, soaked, and drained
- 1 handful green olives, pits removed
- 2 to 3 tablespoons best-quality herb vinegar
- 5 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons slivered almonds, lightly toasted
Directions: Add at least 3 tablespoons of oil to a large pan over high heat. Add eggplant and oregano, seasoning with some salt, and toss to coat the eggplant in the oil, adding more if necessary. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the eggplant pieces are golden on each side, add the onion, garlic, and parsley stalks. Cook for 2 minutes. Add drained capers, olives, and herb vinegar.
When the vinegar has evaporated, add the tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes or until tender. Taste, adding salt, pepper, and vinegar to your liking, and top with parsley leaves and almonds.
6. Lebanese-Style Stuffed Eggplant
This dish from Gourmet uses bambino eggplant, also called baby bell. Look for the small Italian eggplants at the grocery store for this dish, as they’ll cook quicker and be easier to hollow out than larger varieties. When it comes to the filling, do use long grain or jasmine rice and don’t try to sub in medium grain. The starch profiles are different, and the short and medium grain rices have more of the starch that will create a mushy texture here.
- 6 (5- to 6-inch-long) bambino eggplants
- ½ cup long-grain or jasmine rice
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 cups chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 (14½-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
- ¾ pound ground lamb or beef chuck, not too lean
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ lemon
- 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Directions: Hollow out each eggplant with a melon-ball cutter, working from bottom end and leaving about ⅓-inch eggplant flesh along interior walls.
Rinse rice in a sieve under cold water until water runs clear. Drain well.
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Fry pine nuts, stirring frequently, until golden, about 3 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl.
Sauté onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer ½ cup onion mixture to bowl with pine nuts. Add stock, tomatoes, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper to skillet and simmer, uncovered, while stuffing eggplant.
Add rice, meat, allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper to bowl with onion mixture and mix well with your hands.
Stuff eggplant with meat mixture, being careful not to pack tightly, as rice will expand during cooking. Transfer stuffed eggplants to skillet with tomato sauce and simmer, covered, carefully turning once, until rice is cooked through, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Err on the side of longer cooking if unsure.
If sauce is watery, transfer eggplant to a plate and boil sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, 3 to 5 minutes, then adjust seasoning if necessary. Return stuffed eggplant to sauce. Squeeze lemon over dish and sprinkle with parsley before serving.
7. Mushroom Broth With Smoked Eggplant Dumplings
If you like wonton soup but you’re looking for a darker, woodsier, and vegetarian version, look no further than this recipe from Food52. The richness of the dumplings and the earthiness of the broth are perfectly balanced by the sweet pop of carrots and green peas, as well as the peppery bite of watercress, which wilts just enough in the hot broth to not stand out texturally.
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1¼ pounds white mushrooms, roughly chopped
- 1 leek, washed, white parts thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ½ cup dried porcinis
- 1 cup medium dry sake
- ⅓ cup soy sauce
- 6 cups water
- ¾ cup peas
- 1 carrot, thinly sliced
- 1 bunch watercress
- Chili oil
- Rice vinegar
- 1 eggplant
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon hoisin
- 1 tablespoon ginger, grated
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced
- Wonton wrappers
Directions: Sauté mushrooms, leeks, and garlic until mushrooms have released their juices. Add sake, soy sauce, dried mushrooms, and water and simmer, covered, with the lid slightly cracked about an hour. Pour through a fine-meshed strainer and return to pot. Add peas and carrots, and cook until carrots are just tender.
Char eggplant all over on grill, under broiler, or over flame until very soft. As with the baba ganoush, cook it until you think it’s done and then cook it some more. Place in a bowl and cover with lid or plastic wrap to steam until cool. Peel and finely chop eggplant. Stir in remaining ingredients and adjust with salt, if needed. Place a teaspoon of filling into a wrapper, wet edges, and seal in whatever shape you like best. Dumplings can be simmered in soup or steamed separately for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve with watercress and a few drops each rice vinegar and chili oil if desired.