If you think eggplant can only be found in the summer, well, think again. Eggplant’s are in season through fall, which means these next few weeks might be your last chance to sample this nightshade vegetable grown locally. We like to think we know a lot… but we had no idea that eggplant isn’t a vegetable. It’s actually a fruit (like tomatoes). While most eggplant found in your run-of-the-mill grocery store are generally large and dark purple, eggplants come in all shapes and colors from lavender to white. Eggplant can be short, fat, long, and thin depending on the variety, but they’re all delicious and well worth trying before they go out of season.
That standard eggplant you see at the grocery store that’s shaped like a large tear drop is most often what you call a Black Magic, Beauty or Bell Eggplant. These are meaty with a thick foamy flesh before being cooked. They’re perfect to use when a dish needs something hearty and meaty; eggplant is often used in dishes that need a substantial vegetable. On the other hand, Japanese Eggplant couldn’t be more different. This variety is long, thin, and somewhat delicate with a much lighter purple color that almost fades to white. Japanese Eggplant also have a more delicate flavor and best eaten on their own as the centerpiece of the dish. But if you’re looking for something a little more decorative, try the Sicilian Eggplant. It’s smaller and oval shaped, but the real draw is the flesh: Dark purple skin streaked with white, mimicking purple and white stripes. And if you really want to try something different, try White Eggplant. As a general rule of thumb, the darker the skin the darker the taste. Lighter eggplants are sweeter and can be handled more gently, cooking for less time because they aren’t as bitter or boldly flavored.
Eggplant can be found at grocery stores, but the specialty varieties are sold primarily at farmers markets. The Union Square Farmer’s Market has the largest selection, from Baby Eggplants to Japanese Eggplants to the famed White Eggplant, but boutique markets throughout the city carry unique types of eggplants. Whichever you find, slice and roast them in the oven with a little olive oil and salt for a side dish or cut, saute, and stir into a pasta sauce.
Sometimes, you just don’t feel like cooking, which is never a bad thing in New York. You’re bound to find Eggplant on any Indian menu, including our downtown favorite, Tamarind, which cooks Japanese Eggplant with peanuts, sesame seeds and coconut in a dish called Bhagarey Baigan. Balthazar has an entirely different, but nonetheless, delicious take with a Roasted Eggplant Sandwich, layered with peperonata, arugula and shaved parmesan on ciabatta bread. If you’re looking for a good pasta dish, try the Eggplant and Basil Mezzaluna at Tom Colicchio’s Craft. Then again, we also make a habit of Nicoletta’s Melanzane, fried eggplant with tomato basil aioli, followed by their Parmigiana pizza with ricotta, fried eggplant, marinated tomatoes, pomodoro, garlic and basil. No matter what cuisine you’re in the mood for, Eggplant is the perfect way to get a taste of fall and a last look at summer.
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