If you don’t like eggplant, you’re not alone. For a long time back in history, even people who grew eggplants didn’t eat them. Instead, they kept them as pretty ornaments, never letting them land on a dinner plate out of fear that they might cause insanity, cancer, or worse.
Those claims are mythical, but it’s true that cooked incorrectly, eggplant can be bitter, mushy, or both. Fortunately, more and more varieties are now bred to eliminate that bitter taste, and the many cultures that have adopted eggplant as a delicacy, not a decoration, have methods to make it taste so great you’ll want the summer fruit (yes, it’s a fruit–not a veggie) on your plate whenever you can get it. Here are three important tricks to help make eggplant a staple of your summer diet.
Salt The Eggplant
Salt is the best way to rid an eggplant of any bitterness. Though not all varieties have that bitter flavor our ancestors so despised, you can ward off the mere possibility of a bad taste by allowing a little extra time for salting. Plan to salt your eggplant slices or cubes for about 30 minutes before you cook. Just use a couple of pinches of coarse salt—not too much. After the half hour, you’ll notice that drops of slightly brown water will have formed on the surface of the eggplant. That’s the bitterness literally pulling itself out. Blot the drops with a paper towel before continuing on with a recipe.
Like tofu or potatoes, eggplant’s spongy texture helps it absorb the herbs, spices, and oils you use in cooking. Take inspiration from eggplant eaters around the globe and add eggplant to a buffet of fairly strong-tasting dishes. Watch how Thai Green eggplant soak up the richness and flavor of a coconut-based curry, use purple and white striped beauties to roast into oily Middle Eastern baba ganoush, and transform small white eggplant into a strongly seasoned Indian dish like fragrant Baingan Bharta.
Pair With Tomatoes
Eggplant and tomatoes are partners in crime. They’re members of the same family, and they also tend to ripen around the same time. That’s no culinary coincidence: When cooked, jammy tomatoes help mellow out eggplant’s harshness, as you’ll know if you’ve ever enjoyed a portion of really good eggplant parmigiana. The two also come together in ratatouille, the Southern French dish that marries eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and onions into a toothsome stew. Grilled eggplant slices are divine topped with chopped-up cherry tomatoes, leaves of just-picked basil, and fresh mozzarella.