Eggplant Extravaganza

Recipes that make the most of (or cleverly disguise) this summer mystery.

By Tanya Sichynsky

Eggplant, in all of its oblong, amethyst glory, can be an enigma to home cooks. At least, that’s the takeaway from emails I’ve received from readers, especially now that it’s everywhere: stores, markets, gardens, C.S.A. boxes. You have eggplants galore (and varying tastes for them), I have dinner ideas. Welcome to Recipe Matchmaker: Eggplant Edition.

Something for the skeptics

“How do you make eggplant delicious? We find it inedible no matter what we do, but our C.S.A. has a bumper crop!” — Amy

If you find eggplant inedible, either because of its texture or taste, you want recipes that use up as much produce as possible while making it largely undetectable. That is, take the toddler approach and hide it. In Kay Chun’s eggplant and bean chili, eggplant is simmered in a garlicky tomato sauce until it collapses into a chile-spiced ragù. Pairing stewed eggplant with aromatics and protein-packed legumes is a solid strategy: Kay does it again in her recipe for eggplant dal, in which cumin, coriander, garlic, ginger and fresh chile season lentils and eggplant.

Something for the fans

“I LOVE EGGPLANT but can’t seem to master cooking it. Am I the only one with this problem? When I cook it on the stove top, it is bitter. When I bake it, battered in slices, the skin is too hard. Help!” — Kay

Find solace in the fact that, when it comes to kitchen conundrums, you’re never alone! Bitter eggplant is often undercooked eggplant. The bulbous globe eggplants (a.k.a. American eggplants) that are most common at supermarkets take longer to cook through and tend to have tougher skins, which can make them tricky to prepare.

Try buying smaller, younger eggplants or slimmer varietals, like Italian or Japanese eggplant. (If you’re stuck with thick-skinned fruit, you can certainly peel it.) And if you’re frustrated with the results of sautéing and baking, try steaming: In about 10 minutes, strips of eggplant are rendered silky in Hetty Lui McKinnon’s recipe for liang ban qie zi, eggplant with garlic, ginger and scallions. Softened from the steam, the eggplant becomes a sponge for the dressing of soy sauce, black vinegar and chile crisp.

Something for the haters

“Too mushy. Too slimy. Too fleshy. My partner loves it. Is there an eggplant main dish recipe that doesn’t obscure the eggplant with batter and cheese and isn’t one of those textures I loathe?” — Mark

Overcoming textural loathing? Now that’s love. Avoid long-cooked eggplant recipes in favor of something that will maintain some structural integrity, like sautéing. This 20-minute recipe from Sue Li yields tender — not mushy! — eggplant by cooking it only until the flesh is golden brown and the skins are just a bit wrinkled. The eggplant spears are draped in a sweet-and-sour glaze that is slick, but never slimy, and are paired with crunchy garlic chips, which keep the final dish from being texturally homogeneous.

Eggplant and Bean Chili

View this recipe.

Eggplant Dal

View this recipe.

Liang Ban Qie Zi (Eggplant With Garlic, Ginger and Scallions)

View this recipe.

One More Thing!

Eggplant … but not

“Much as I love an eggplant Parm sandwich, are there any other hot vegetarian sandwiches one could make at home?” — Wilma

As a matter of fact, yes! When your next hankering strikes, turn to another summer staple: zucchini. Kay Chun has a brand-new recipe for crispy zucchini heroes, in which panko-crusted, pan-fried zucchini slices are tucked into a roll alongside plenty of shredded lettuce and sliced tomato, with a dressing of oil, white vinegar and dried oregano that lends that familiar Italian hero tang.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

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