There’s a lot of confusion around eggplant. Maybe it’s the color. Perhaps it’s the shape or the texture or a bad experience with one that was past its prime. Whatever the reason, people often don’t know what to do with this earthy-flavored ingredient.
Trust me, the possibilities are endless.
First, let’s get something straight. Eggplant, or aubergine as the French call it, isn’t actually a vegetable. Part of the nightshade family that includes potatoes and tomatoes, eggplant is a fruit—and specifically a berry. Pretty wild but kind of an academic point, as we’re not likely to serve cubed eggplant over ice cream anytime soon. There are so many varieties of eggplant, ranging in color from dark purple to white and in size from 2 inches to 12. Some are round; others are oblong. Some have stripes while others are deeply and uniformly purple.
Some of the most common types are
Globe eggplant: the most common type of eggplant in the U.S., it’s large, purple and shaped like a cylinder with smooth, glossy skin.
Italian eggplant: a mini-me version of the globe but with a more delicate skin and milder flesh
Japanese or Asian eggplant: range in color from solid purple to striped with a tender skin and slightly sweet flesh
White eggplant: often found shaped like an egg with a tougher skin but smoother firmer flesh
Whatever type of eggplant you pick, make sure that it’s firm, has a smooth, unblemished skin and feels heavy for its size. Go for smaller sized eggplants. The bigger the fruit, the more bitter it tends to be.
Which brings me to the two most common complains about eggplant: it’s bitter and it soaks up oil like a dry sponge. In the old days, eggplant was pretty much guaranteed to be bitter. But these days, modern growers tend to pick the produce younger, making the flesh milder and sweeter. If an eggplant is bitter now, it’s usually because it’s a little too old.
To combat the bitterness, people used to salt and dry eggplant before cooking. It wasn’t a bad idea. The salt draws out the bitter juices. It also firms up the flesh, so the eggplant won’t absorb so much oil during cooking (taking care of the second complaint). Many chefs disagree on whether salting is necessary now. But if you have a large eggplant that’s been hanging out a little too long in the fridge, it’s still a good idea, especially if you’re planning on using it in a stir-fry or casserole.
Here’s what you do:
1. If the eggplant is older, the skin will become tough. Peel stripes off of the eggplant skin, leaving a little on the fruit for flavor.
2. Quarter, slice or cube the eggplant and sprinkle salt generously over the piece.
3. Place in a colander and drain for at least an hour. You may see moisture beading up on the surface of the eggplant.
4. Rinse the salt from the eggplant. Place the pieces between sheets of paper towels and press gently to remove more juice. You’re ready to use!
Italian, Japanese and white eggplant don’t need salting. Quick-cooking and milder in flavor, they are a great choice for stir-fries. If you’re roasting or grilling, there’s also no need to salt the eggplant first. Just prick the eggplants all over with a fork, coat with olive oil and place in a preheated grill, broiler or oven. The skin will blacken and the flesh will ooze into a smoky, creamy goodness that’s perfect for making homemade spreads like this Roasted Eggplant Dip with Crispy Pita Chips.
It’s been hot in Los Angeles this September. So hot that you’d been forgiven for not realizing that summer has started slipping into autumn. While we’re still out and about in flip-flops and
t-shirts, there are subtle signs that the seasons have shifted. The white-hot summer sun has cooled to a golden yellow, and these days, evening comes a hair sooner than it did just a few weeks ago. I love autumn and all the gorgeous root vegetables that start to surface, but it’s also a little bittersweet, saying goodbye to the bounty of fresh summer fruit.
So I don't. By canning summer fruits, you can keep a touch of the warm weather on your dinner plate all year round.
People get pretty freaked out when they hear canning. I’m pretty sure they’re picturing exploding jars and botulism. But trust me, the water-bath method of canning has been used for centuries to preserve fruit and it's a snap. You just need to know the guidelines.
First, this method is only for fruits and tomatoes. Think peaches, apricots, berries and brandy wine heirloom tomatoes. They are naturally acidic, so bacteria will have a tough time growing around them. Do not use this method with veggies. They must be canned using a method called pressure canning, which is more involved.
That's all you needed to know. Ready? Head to the farmers market for your favorite end-of-the-season fruit. I’m going with plums and peaches.
Wash your fruit.
Grab a handful of canning jars and place them and their lids in boiling water for 10 minutes. Take out carefully with tongs and let cool. This sterilizes the jars so don’t skip this step!
Cut up the fruit and toss any pits in the garbage.
Fill the cooled jars with the fruit pieces and cover completely with boiling water.
Place the lid on the jar and seal. As it cools, the lid will be sucked down, sealing the fruit inside.
Store on the shelf for 3 to 6 months.
You can add flavors like cinnamon sticks or vanilla beans to the canning before sealing, which will infuse the fruit with a bit of flavor. Canning recipes often call for added sugar, which helps keep the color of fruit bright. But I prefer the natural sweetness of the fruit. Just be sure to use high-quality fruit that isn’t overripe, which will soften too much in the water bath.
This winter, when my plums are good and ready, I’m going to use them in this beautiful Plum and Cinnamon Crumble. (It’s also amazing with fresh plums.)
With a name like passion fruit, it’s easy to get the wrong idea. The tropical fruit is unquestionably seductive. And with its tangy flavor and spectacular sweet-smelling fragrance, you’re bound to develop a craving for passion fruit.
But passion fruit actually has nothing to do with desire. Missionaries gave it the name for the plant’s flower, which they thought symbolized the crucifixion (aka the passion) of Christ. The flower’s three stigmas were the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet, for instance, and the surrounding threads formed the crown of thorns.
The first thing you need to know about passion fruit is that looks (and smells) can be deceiving. The fruit smells super sweet and perfumed, but the juicy, gelatinous fruit inside is actually quite tart. What’s more, when the fruit is ripe and ready to eat, the skin looks rotten, wrinkled and pockmarked.
There are two main types of passion fruit. One is the size of a lime with dark purple skin; the other is yellow, as big as an orange, and tastes tangier than it’s purple cousin. Both have a golden-green gelatinous pulp inside and loads of little black seeds. Growing up in Australia, we always ate the seeds. While they provide a good dose of fiber, they can taste a little bitter. Just don’t try to eat the skin of either variety. It’s not edible.
To buy: Look for fruit that feels heavy for it’s size. Light, hollow passion fruit means the pulp inside has dried up. And remember ripe passion fruit will have shriveled skin whether it’s dark purple or bright yellow.
To store: Not-yet-ripe passion fruit should be left in a fruit bowl at room temperature until it looks wrinkly. If already ripe, pop in the fridge, where it can last up to a week.
To use: The easiest way is to cut the fruit in half, scoop out the flesh, and eat. It’s that good. When using the flesh in recipes, keep in mind that a little goes a long way. Like a Meyer lemon, which is also tart and sweet, you don’t need a lot of passion fruit to add a burst of flavor to dishes.
Scoop the fresh fruit over Greek yogurt or ice cream.
Blend passion fruit into a smoothie with mango, pineapple, kiwi fruit and strawberries.
Add the fruit to dressings and marinades. Passion fruit pairs well with avocados and seafood.
Caramelize sugar with passion fruit and drizzle over cheesecake.
Act like an Aussie and add it to the top of a pavlova.
Shake vodka, passion fruit, and ice in a cocktail shaker and serve straight up.
Or, turn it into a lively flavored granita. Try this Exotic Fruit Salad with Passion Fruit Granita.