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.