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How to Cook An Ugly Eggplant (or any Eggplant)

French Supermarket chain, Intermarché is doing their part to lessen food waste. The concept: to use and sell ugly vegetables instead of tossing them into the bin as landfill. (A startling 33% of North American produce is wasted this way.)

When we shared the campaign with our Country Living Facebook group they asked for recipes – specifically eggplant recipes. If you’re like us, you’ve seen them looking plump, purple and beautiful in the grocery store, tried cooking with them, and been disappointed.

A little knowledge of the eggplant will go a long way in helping you find creative uses for it, so let’s get right to it.

The eggplant is not like a vegetable in the sense that you can just saute one up, slather it in butter, salt and pepper and say “there, I’ve had my veggies for the day!”

Not like a vegetable, because it is actually a fruit!

Wait, it get’s crazier – the eggplant is a fruit, botanically classified as a berry.

Therein lies one of eggplant’s secrets. The seeds inside are as hard and bitter as any berry seed. If too many large seeds end up in your dish, you will find it inedible (small seeds are okay).

Aside from the bitterness of the seeds inside, the skin of larger and older eggplants may also be bitter. You can discard the skin (and most people do), but many of the best nutrients will be lost. My suggestion? Buy fresh, small-medium sized fruit and remove only some of the peel when trying out new recipes.

So what’s in an eggplant? Very little fat (0.2 grams), and protein (0.8g); it is mostly composed of carbohydrates (almost equal amounts of fiber and sugar) – and is a favorite among low carb dieters.

Eggplant also contains some potassium (188 mg), and some Vitamin B6 (about 5% of daily needs), and 20 calories – per cup, raw. It is said to be high in antioxidants – the darker the skin the better in this regard – which help fight free radicals and cell damage, perhaps even preventing cancer.

Please note that the eggplant is a member of the nightshade family and contains solanine. Consecutive meals may aggravate arthritic and/or inflammatory issues. Sweating and cooking with salt nullifies most of eggplant’s toxins.

Cooking With Eggplants

I’ve provided a few basic recipes below to get you started, but if you’re a creative home cook you’ll want a little more info before you get started.

The meat of an eggplant is very fibrous (porous). If you’re not careful it will soak up oils and stock like a sponge during cooking. For that reason eggplant is either cooked alone before being added to a dish or sweated in preparation.

Sweat Your Eggplant Strips

To sweat an eggplant, slice it thin (1/8” – 1/2” depending on the recipe), lightly salt both sides, and allow the water to drain out. In 15 minutes the fibers within tighten up, therefore allowing less liquid back during the cooking process.

Most cooks lay salted strips on a paper towel, swapping out the towels once they are sopped. This seems an incredible waste of paper to me so I use my nut milk bag. Do you own one of these? Simply amazing at filtering home made nut milks, rinsing and starting sprouts, as well as sweating or draining any vegetables. Place salted strips of eggplant into your nut milk bag and hang to let gravity do most of the work. (If your filter bag is large enough, speed up the process by laying it across a wire rack with a heavy plate or pan pressing upon it from above.)

Just The Pulp Please

Use the meat (or pulp) of an eggplant to create delicious dips that can be served hot or cold. You’ll find recipes in almost every culture that uses pureed eggplant as a spread or dip – the most well known of which are baba ghanoush (Arab) and melitzanosalata or melitzano (Greek). In both of these spreads the pulp is first cooked, then pureed, then blended with tahini, garlic, fresh lemon, minced herbs and some spices. Chili powder and cumin is customary. The French season this dish with cilantro.

You can use the same cooked puree to thicken a strong flavored soup. Exercise with caution the first time you do so if your soup is subtly-flavored.

Eggplant Recipes For Those That Don't Like Eggplant

Here is the basic recipe to get you started making signature dips. Season and flavor to your own tastes.

Roasted Eggplant Dip

2 medium eggplants
1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh
2 tsp garlic, finely minced
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 tbsp virgin olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Place washed and lightly pricked eggplants, whole, onto a non-stick baking sheet.
  2. Turn oven to broil and place the sheet onto the middle rack.
  3. Turn once or twice for (relatively) even charred appearance (this alters the sugar content inside slightly and give the eggplant a delicious deep flavor).
  4. Turn oven setting to 375 degrees F (190 C) and allow the eggplants to continue cooking until very soft (about 30 minutes).
  5. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
  6. Combine tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin and the salt in a medium-sized glass bowl.
  7. As soon as the eggplants are cool enough to handle, cut them open, allow the liquid inside to drain off and scoop out the pulp, adding to the tahini mixture.
  8. Mash or puree, adjust seasoning and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  9. Garnish with a light drizzle of olive oil or any favorite herbs and spices.

Variation: If you don’t have tahini, substitute with 3/4 to 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese. Un-traditional but very flavorful!

Skinny Eggplant Fries

Roasting any vegetable in thin strips is one of my favorite ways to eat them. Doing so in a way that I don’t miss french fried potatoes can be a challenge.

Most veg is easy to roast. Toss cut sticks into a large zipper-bag with oil, garlic, seasonings, and a few generous shakes of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Rutabaga, parsnips, broccoli stalks and cauliflower roast up beautifully; golden brown on the outside, soft and slightly chewy on the inside.

Eggplant needs a little more attention to mask its bitterness; you have to add a touch of sweetness. Yes, extra carbs and calories, but these turn out so delightful you’ll say it was all worth it. Eggplant fries are still far lower in both than a potato fry!

1 eggplant, mostly peeled
2 tbsp lard or coconut oil
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp real maple syrup (no substitutions will work here, sorry)
1 cup finely ground almonds (or almond flour, or bread crumbs if you’re not worried about the carbs)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Cut eggplant into thin french fry strips, about 1/8” to 1/4” thick.
  3. Add slightly warmed coconut oil or lard to a glass bowl, add in maple syrup and spices.
  4. Toss eggplant strips into the bowl and gently mix to coat all pieces.
  5. Roll each strip lightly in ground almonds.
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes on a non-stick baking sheet or silicone mat. They will be a lovely golden brown when done.
  7. Serve immediately.

Easy Eggplant Parmesan for Two

It is hard to dislike a meal that has been breaded, covered in pasta sauce and smothered in bubbling cheese. With spaghetti sauce on hand this dish can be on the table in under an hour (30 minutes prep, 30 minutes idle).

Breaded eggplant slices are layered with sauce and cheese, then baked. You can either fry the breaded eggplant or you can roast them. Frying is quicker but involves you standing in front of the pan. Roasting takes longer but frees up your time for other activities.

2 medium eggplants, peeled, sliced 1/2” thick
1 large egg
3/4 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp Parmesan, grated
1/2 tsp oregano, dried
1/2 tsp basil, dried
3 cups chunky pasta sauce (homemade or canned)
1 cup mozzarella, shredded

Instructions:

  1. Salt and sweat eggplant slices for 15 minutes. (I toss mine in a nut milk bag and hang to let gravity do the work. If short on time, lay the bag on a wire rack with heavy pan on top of the bag. This saves 1/2 roll of paper towels.)
  2. In a pie plate or shallow bowl, whisk egg with one tablespoon of water.
  3. On a plate, combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan, oregano, and basil.
  4. Dip eggplant slices first in egg mixture, then dredge through breadcrumb mixture. Fry in a lightly oiled saute pan, browning both sides, or bake at 375F on a non-stick baking sheet for 20 minutes per side.
  5. In a small casserole dish, layer sauce, breaded eggplant slices and mozzarella; repeat. This isn’t an exact science, your Eggplant Parmesan can be one layer thick or three, it will taste delicious regardless.
  6. Top with two tablespoons Parmesan and bake uncovered in a preheated 400F oven until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Special shout out to Huffington Post for alerting us to the inglorious vegetable campaign.

Do you have a favorite eggplant recipe that you’d like to share? Add it to the comments below or chime in on our ugly vegetables Country Living Facebook conversation. We’d love to have you!

About Laura Childs

Country Living enthusiast Laura Childs was a downtown city girl for many years before heading to the hills to live a sustainable lifestyle, raise her daughter, get back to the land, and learn the time tested traditions of a simpler era. Throughout her farm life adventures of raising animals, working from home, home schooling her daughter, and being more green, Laura Childs has been sharing on the GoodByeCityLife website through articles and personal musings since 1998.