Melissa Clark on the Versatile Eggplant

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Eggplant is versatile, but it can also be mysterious and challenging to prepare. Melissa Clark shares her suggestions for how to prepare eggplant, now that it's in season. She's New York Times Dining Section columnist and cookbook writer, and her most recent cookbook is Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can't Wait to Make.



Melissa Clark

Comments [34]

Chiara klaiman from Ridgewood NY

I've never experienced a 'fishy' eggplant. But maybe trying a different variety of eggplant might help. Japanese eggplants are usually nice and mild, and are wonderful grilled or baked then topped with ponzu sauce, sesame oil and some togarashi. And if the eggplant has a fishy taste in that context, I think it would actually be a good thing.

Aug. 29 2013 12:50 PM
Chiara Klaiman from Ridgewood NY

At the restaurant where I work, we cut the eggplant into small dice (1/2" cubes) and sautee it very quickly over very high heat with just a little oil. Then we cool it very quickly. The eggplant gets nice colour and stays a bit chewy. We then mix it with chopped capers, brunoise onions, chopped parsley and a little aioli. It's like a steak tartar, but way more healthy. It has a great 'beefy' flavour and the texture of the eggplant is a bit like raw beef. Even sworn carnivores enjoy it.

Aug. 29 2013 12:38 PM
isabel sciaky from Manhattan

Dear Rose Rowland, I freeze my eggplant but only after frying for stuffed eggplant shepardic style or middle eastern. My mother-in-law (originally from Salonica)I would not give me the recipe but I watched and learned. I also freeze it for a very short time. I also fry the eggplant in canola oil and always salt and drain prior to frying.

Aug. 21 2013 05:34 PM
gene from Manhattan

To the individual who enjoyed a North African dish of eggplant stuffed with beef prepared by a friends grandmother -- a couple of suggestions

1. There are several North African and other Middle Eastern recipes for stuffed veggies in "A book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden. They are all very good.

2. A great Turkish recipe in which you use long thin eggplant which have been slit lengthwise and salted. Remove about 1/2 the peel. Let them sit for about a 1/2 hour then drain. Saute them browning a little on each side. Set aside.

The stuffing in a mix of 2 finely chopped onions, 1 lb. ground beef or lamb, two large tomatoes skinned and chopped, salt, pepper and parsley
Saute the onions in olive oil or butter until softened, add beef, then add chopped onions salt, pepper and parsley and cook a few minutes.

Put olive oil or butter in bottom of baking pan, and stuff with above mixture. Top with slices from one tomato. Add some stock to about halfway up the sides of the eggplant and bake in 350 oven, until eggplant is soft (about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes) Check to make sure you have at least some liquid while baking. At the end you should have a small amount
of liquid in the pan. I got this from The Home Book of Turkish Cookery by Venice Lamb and also from my watching my Turkish friends and relatives. You can sprinkle chopped parsley on the top.

Sometimes I've added in dried currants and pignole nuts. Enjoy

Aug. 21 2013 03:51 PM
Amanda from NJ

an egyptian eggplant dish is awesome, you fry the eggplant slices, add sauteed garlic, green peppers, tomato sauce, and add salt and VINEGAR.

Aug. 21 2013 01:00 PM
Alex from BPC

One of the most delicious meals I ever had was stuffed eggplant with ground beef. It was made by the Spanish/North African Jewish grandmother of a friend of mine. I've never been able to track down a recipe because I didn't know what it was called. Any ideas?

Also I've been using eggplant in my tomato sauces, cooking it and letting it stew with onions, peppers, sausage, marrow bone, spices, and obviously the pureed tomato. It comes out with a fantastically understated flavor and beautiful consistency. Great show!

Aug. 21 2013 12:45 PM
Alisha from Brooklyn

A fantastic garnish to eggplant soup is to roast a red pepper, peel and whip with some heavy whipping cream, salt, and a generous dollop is not only beautiful but delicious. My mother did this during a recent visit. I think it comes from and Alice Waters recipe.

Aug. 21 2013 12:42 PM
DVE from NYC

We have heard quite a bit from Melissa Clark this summer, I'm hoping you can bring in another very talented chef like David Tanis. His column in the NY Times "City Kitchen" is always innovative, thoughtful and challenging.


Aug. 21 2013 12:40 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I had a skin reaction after eating eggplant when I was around 7 years old & was told I was allergic. I don't think there's another kind of food that has so many names in different cuisines, & I had to learn them all so I could avoid them in restaurants! Decades later I got tired of asking "Is that hummus or babaganoush?" & finally got tested. It turns out I'm not allergic (the allergist said I could "all the eggplant parm you want")...but I don't much like the taste. I try to give it a chance once in a while, but I haven't found an eggplant dish I like. The closest one was a recipe that was very spicy, because that covered up the eggplant flavor.

And it's not the sliminess...I love okra.

Aug. 21 2013 12:39 PM
Drew from Brooklyn

For the caller looking for Za'atar: Two great places. On in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn:
Kalustyans: Lex / 28th in Manhattan
Sahadi's - Atlantic Ave across from Trader Joe's in Boerum Hill / Brooklyn.
Sahadi's has several varieties i.e. Jordanian vs. Egyptian. You can get a gracious supply for 2/3$.

Aug. 21 2013 12:39 PM
Rose Rowland

Can Fresh Eggplant be kept frozen for recipes? Also, what are the best fresh spices to use with eggplant?

Aug. 21 2013 12:36 PM
Darren O'Brien from Gramercy

I used to be a picky kid, but in my early 20s I decided to get over it. The first time I ate eggplant (a la parmesan at maybe age 21), though, I almost puked. It was such a foreign flavor and texture that I couldn't tolerate it. I tried it again later, and still wasn't a fan. By the third time, in fried cube form, I loved it, and it's something I always bring to other people's barbecues.

I wonder if the guest has any insight into the comfort food quality of eggplant. I have a few friends that are holistic nutritionists and raw food chefs, and they talk about how the alkalinity makes eggplant instantly rewarding in the same way as dairy (but, of course, more rewarding in the long term).

Aug. 21 2013 12:35 PM
Kira from Brooklyn

I think people are allergic to eggplant because it is from the nightshade family. Those who think it is slimy can try ratatouille with tomatoes in it to help to change the taste and texture of the eggplant. This works for okra, too, since the acid from the tomatoes break down the gooiness.

As a sidenote, I've heard that eggplant is one of the only fruits that is found indigenously on every continent but Antarctica.

Aug. 21 2013 12:35 PM
Anne from Harlem

Why does eggplant sometimes take fishy to me? Am I alone here? How to get rid of that taste ?

Aug. 21 2013 12:34 PM

Hi. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, my mom would roast them whole, peel them, remove some of the seeds. Then sauted them with onions, italian peppers, tomato paste, garlic and onions. Served over rice, it is delicious.

P.S. I did not like it as a child, until one day during a general strike, when there was no other food in the house. I have loved it ever since.

Aug. 21 2013 12:33 PM
Grace from NJ

My 94 year old mother keeps a "stock" of eggplant in the freezer.
She salts, then dredges in flour and dips in egg and fries the dark eggplants. I haven't met anyone who didn't like her eggplant parmesan.

Aug. 21 2013 12:32 PM
kate cahill from Hudson Valley

Leonard-- I too have disliked eggplant since being a child, even though my Italian grandmother was a fantastic cook! I think it was the composite name. I have also always had a hard time w/ getting excited about CHEESE CAKE! Just imagine the slices of American cheese that we all grew up w/ and say- my childhood favorite "Blackout Cake"-- YUCK!! Enough to make one cross the street to avoid a Junior's or Baby Watson!

Aug. 21 2013 12:32 PM
Melissa from East Harlem

My fiance makes the absolute best Eggplant parm, and there is no oil involved. He salts the eggplant, then dredges in flour, dips in egg and then breadcrumbs. Bake them ~350 until fork tender, then top with mozzarella and parmesean cheese. It keeps a crispy crust and silky interior. We don't top it with sauce until it is on the plate. Wonderful!

Aug. 21 2013 12:30 PM
nancy from New Jersey

Ratatouille Rules!

Aug. 21 2013 12:28 PM
Yan from UWS

You can't claim you don't like eggplant if you haven't tried the Hummus Place's eggplant appetizer: charcoal grilled, then drenched in tahini sauce... delicious!

Aug. 21 2013 12:28 PM
John from Manhattan

I visited Osaka Japan last year and had Senshu mizunasu which is a pickled eggplant from the neighborhood of Senshu. The eggplant is slightly salty and crispy and less bitter than regular eggplant. They make a perfect compliment to ice cold beer.

Aug. 21 2013 12:27 PM
mimette from nyc

My grandmother, who kept kosher, could not be convinced that eggplant parmesan did not contain meat, and she would refuse to taste it.

Aug. 21 2013 12:27 PM
Lisa from Queens, NY

Lidia Bastianich makes a lasagna with fried eggplant, slices of semolina bread, basil leaves and tomato sauce, and it's fantastic (even if you bread the eggplant in the oven rather than frying).

I also love to grill thin slices of eggplant and throw them on a pizza with tomato and feta.

Aug. 21 2013 12:26 PM

@ Melissa from Crown Heights: Same here! Eggplant has itched my tongue for as far back as I can recall.
Eggplant parmesan is a timeless classic that evokes fond memories.
What about the concerns over nightshades?

Aug. 21 2013 12:23 PM
Elaine from baltimore

Eggplant: originally domesticated in India

Aug. 21 2013 12:22 PM
Phoebe from bushwick

I get super itchy from eggplants that aren't cooked enough, or prepared specific ways. BUT, if the eggplant is salted and pressed for a bit before being prepared, I can generally eat it without an issue.

Aug. 21 2013 12:22 PM

I like eggplant but it hurts my throat HOWEVER, when I traveled in Turkey, I had absolutely no problem with it. Any thoughts?

Aug. 21 2013 12:20 PM

I don't think you freeze it to cut it thin --- you put in the freezer for 20 or 30 minutes to let it firm up so you can have more control of it when you cut it. (People do this with meat as well.)

Aug. 21 2013 12:18 PM
Brooke from Brooklyn

My fiancee and I lived in Israel for a year and one of our favorite recipes is grilled eggplant with tomatoes, chopped onion, and LOTS OF TAHINA! DELICIOUS!

Aug. 21 2013 12:14 PM
kim from brooklyn

If you quickly blanch your eggplant it will not absorb oil when cooking and works great for sautees, grilling whatever. I never salt anymore

Aug. 21 2013 12:13 PM
antonio from baySide

I dislike eggplant, but my girlfriend Barbara loves it! Are there any other fruits, vegetables, spices or cooking styles that may bring out a different flavor rather then the one I have come to expect?

Aug. 21 2013 12:11 PM
Melissa from Crown heights

I love eggplant but it makes my mouth itch. Does your guest know of any varieties that carry less of the allergen than the generic dark purple variety? Or other ways of preparing it?

Aug. 21 2013 12:11 PM
Anne from Harlem

I hate fish, and for some reason eggplant sometimes tastes fishy to me! Why-- and what can I do to get rid of fishy taste?

Aug. 21 2013 12:09 PM
Ana Raksit from Long Island, NY

Baigan Bharta- North Indian roasted eggplant dish. Here's a good recipe;

Aug. 21 2013 10:59 AM

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