Eggplant, in all its glorious colors, is the perfect salute to late summer. Deep dark purple, pearly white, striped or pale green, eggplants are at their peak now in all their shapes and sizes, from plump or skinny to long or round. Fried and roasted eggplant is crisp and meaty; when slow-cooked the flesh turns creamy. Eggplant’s mild flavor works wonderfully in the boldly seasoned cuisines of Morocco, India, Italy and Asia.
At the farmers markets, choose eggplants that are shiny, smooth, blemish-free and feel light when you pick one up. (Heavier eggplants tend to be seedy.) These members of the nightshade family, related to potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, do not store well. Once you get them home, keep eggplant in a cool, dark place and enjoy in a day or two. Otherwise, store them for up to five days wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator. Don’t peel or slice eggplant until ready to use as it will turn brown and bitter. Here’s a quick guide to the range of fresh local eggplant:
Italian: The most familiar type — plump and purple, these are especially tender when cooked slowly and are great in caponata and ratatouille.
Graffiti, aka Sicilian: Purple and white striped; those pretty stripes disappear when the eggplant is cooked.
Japanese and Chinese: Long, narrow and lavender colored, with thin skin and very few seeds. These are terrific sautéed and stir-fried.
Fairy Tale: Cutest eggplant of all. Purple and white striped, it fits in the palm of your hand. This is especially good on the grill.
White: A pearly version of the dark purple varieties and just as delicious.
Indian, aka Baby: Squat, small and reddish-purple and great in a curry.
Little Green: Baseball-sized with pale green skin, it’s creamy when cooked.
Thai: Tiny, greenish-white, and terrific in a Thai curry.
The Moroccan-inspired recipes for eggplant are among my favorites. Take eggplant Zaalouk, as fun to say as it is easy to cook. Eggplant, tomatoes and peppers are simmered with warm spices into a fragrant dish. It is one of those recipes that tastes even better a day or two after it’s made. Use any of the eggplant varieties in this recipe; try to stay local and market-fresh.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.