Eggplant, said to have been introduced to North America by Thomas Jefferson, has been a favorite vegetable in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern culinary traditions for centuries. Small varieties are tender enough not to require any preliminary attention, but the taste and texture of large, mature eggplants will be improved by "sweating" them to draw out bitter-tasting juices. This procedure also helps collapse cell membranes, thereby reducing the sponge-like capacity of the vegetable's flesh to soak up oil. The seeds of a fresh eggplant should be soft and barely visible and if they are, there's no need to remove them. If seeds are brown, scoop them out with a spoon.
Slice off the top and peel the eggplant. The purplish-black skin on large eggplants tends to be tough but it also contains the greatest concentration of nasunin, a potent antioxidant. Peeling the vegetable in "stripes," as recommended by "Fine Cooking," keeps some of those nutrients. If you're planning to grill the eggplant, keeping the skin on until after cooking will help slices retain their shape.
Cut the eggplant into pieces. Your recipe will dictate the preferred size and shape.
Sprinkle salt generously over all surfaces of the pieces.
Set the eggplant pieces in a colander to drain. Almost immediately, you'll see little beads of "sweat" starting to form on the eggplant. Leave the colander for about an hour.
Rinse and squeeze the eggplant pieces. Hold the colander under cold running water to rinse the salt away. Gently but firmly squeeze the pieces to coax out remaining liquid and set them on paper towels.
Pat the pieces dry with paper towels. After this, your eggplant is ready to be cooked.
Things You'll Need
2 large eggplants
Kosher or coarse sea salt
"Fine Cuisine" offers a few tips for recognizing the freshness of eggplant before you buy. The skin should be smooth, shiny and wrinkle-free. The indentation made by your finger when you press into the flesh should spring back immediately. Ideally, the stem should look a little moist, as though freshly cut. Use the eggplant as soon as possible after buying, but it will stay fresh in the crisper for two to three days. Remove any brown or hardened spots in the flesh. If you see too much discoloration and the seeds are also brown, the eggplant is past its prime and you should get another one.
The Cook's Thesaurus states that male eggplants have fewer seeds and are less bitter than female eggplants. To determine the gender of an eggplant, look at the indentation on the bottom. If deep and dash-shaped, the eggplant is female. If shallow and round, it's male.
Unless the recipe you're using specifically takes "sweating" the eggplant into account, Cookthink recommends that you cut the amount of salt it calls for by half.