Eggplant, part of the nightshade family, was introduced to Spain and north Africa in the Middle Ages, and made its appearance in Italy in the 15th century. Since then, it’s become a feature ingredient in countless dishes, from eggplant Parmesan, to moussaka, to baba ghanoush, and countless stir-fries. Eggplant’s meaty texture adds substance to vegetarian dishes, and its nutty taste complements a wide variety of flavors: bright tomatoes, creamy yogurt and cheese, and spicy chiles, to name a few.

What You'll Learn

Shopping for Eggplant

Gone are the days when there was just one eggplant choice in the supermarket. We rounded up the four most common varieties: large globe, small Italian, slender Chinese, and apple-shaped Thai. We tasted them in five different dishes, each calling for a different cooking method: roasting, sautéeing, baking, and braising. Only the globe eggplant was suitable for all cooking methods. Click here to learn more about our eggplant investigation.

When shopping for eggplant, no matter the type, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Eggplant should look shiny, with no blemishes.
  • Look for eggplants that feel full and heavy for their size.
  • While eggplants are available in markets all year long, they’re at their peak from late summer through early fall.
Clockwise from top left: Italian, globe, Chinese, and Thai Eggplants. We roasted, sautéed, baked, and braised each variety and found globe eggplant the most versatile choice.

Storing Eggplant

Always store eggplants at room temperature, rather than in the refrigerator, as the cold temperature can cause chilling injury.

Tips for Prepping and Cooking Eggplant

Do I Need to Peel Eggplant?

We recommend peeling eggplant in applications where you want the eggplant to really cook down into a smooth texture, like our Walkaway Ratatouille, or when its skin might be a distraction. It’s a personal preference: Some find the skin has a leathery texture when cooked, so they prefer to peel it, while others don’t mind it.

Should I Salt Eggplant Before Cooking?

Eggplants are chock full of air pockets and water, which explains why their flesh is so spongy. When you cook eggplant in oil without removing some of that water beforehand, the air sacs absorb the oil, which can turn the eggplant unpleasantly greasy.

Tossing eggplant with salt pulls water out from inside of the eggplant via osmosis, which in turn collapses some of the eggplant’s cells, reducing the amount of air pockets. And fewer air pockets means the eggplant will absorb less oil. But this process is slow. You need to wait at least 30 minutes for the salt to do its job before draining and blotting the eggplant dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture.

To speed things up, we often employ the microwave. We toss chopped eggplant with salt and then arrange it in a single layer on paper towels (if your paper towels are printed with colors, use coffee filters instead, as the dyes are not always food safe). After a few minutes in the microwave, the eggplant shrivels to about half its original size, and the moisture release is absorbed by the paper towels (or coffee filters). How does it work? The microwave heats water in the eggplant, turning it to steam, simultaneously collapsing the air pockets and removing moisture.

Salting and microwaving eggplant before cooking collapses its air pockets and helps prevent it from absorbing too much oil during cooking.

Can I Tame Eggplant’s Bitter Flavor?

Salt is often used to compensate for bitter flavors in foods such as eggplant, but it’s important to note that it masks bitterness; it doesn’t eliminate it. While unsalted eggplant can taste a bit bitter from compounds called alkaloids found under the skin and in the seeds, the good news is that, these days, thanks to selective breeding methods, eggplant's bitterness has been significantly reduced, making it far less of an issue than it once was.

Eggplant Recipes

Here are five of our favorite eggplant recipes, each featuring a different way to treat and cook eggplant:

Eggplant Involtini

Cooking Method: Bake

For a lighter approach to these cheese-filled eggplant rolls, we bake instead of fry the eggplant before rolling and stuffing it.

Walkaway Ratatouille

Cooking Method:Braise

In our streamlined take on ratatouille, the soft, creamy texture of long-cooked eggplant adds a velvety richness to the sauce, which features tomatoes, onions, and garlic studded with zucchini and bell peppers.

Pasta Alla Norma

Cooking Method: Sauté

In this Sicilian classic, the eggplant takes on a deeply caramelized flavor, which contrasts the bold, bright tomato sauce.

Crispy Thai Eggplant Salad

Cooking Method: Fry

In this dish that’s great as a main course or a side, pretreating the eggplant ensures that is soaks up the bright, intense Thai-inspired dressing and not greasy oil.

Grilled Eggplant and Red Peppers with Mint-Cumin Dressing

Cooking Method: Grill

In this easy recipe, the eggplant takes on the smoky flavor of the grill, which is complemented by a lively dressing featuring bright lemon juice, fresh herbs, and creamy yogurt.