Whether you choose to grill it, roast it, steam it, sautÉ it, or bake it, fiber-rich eggplant is one of the more versatile vegetables you can prepare. It's available year-round, but it is especially plentiful during the summer months. Eggplant has a mild, slightly sweet flavor and “meaty” texture that makes it the perfect addition to meat and poultry-based stir-fries and casseroles, as well as to a host of vegetarian main and side dishes. Here are a few tips for buying, storing, and cooking this popular vegetable, which can be enjoyed on all Phases of the South Beach Diet.
Buying and Storing
The most common eggplants, which are dark purple, are known as American, or globe, eggplants. But there are also Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Italian, and Spanish varieties, which come in many shapes (squat, tear-shaped, round, oblong), sizes (large to tiny baby), and colors (purple, canary yellow, bright orange, and white) and flavors (smaller eggplants tend to be less bitter). One variety, called “Tiger,” is named for its vertical stripes.
When shopping for eggplants, be sure to look for those that are firm, heavy, and smooth. Eggplants with wrinkled or flabby-looking skin will most likely taste bitter. To check for freshness, press the vegetable with your thumb; the indentation should fill up rapidly if the eggplant is fresh.
Eggplants should be kept in a cool, dry place, preferably not the refrigerator (the low temperature can ruin their texture and flavor). They’ll keep for a couple of days if not refrigerated; if you must refrigerate, keep them whole in a paper bag in the refrigerator vegetable drawer and use as soon as possible.
Eggplant can be cooked and eaten with or without its skin. If you want to eat it without the skin, peel it before cooking or simply scoop out the flesh after cooking. The flesh of eggplant begins to turn brown when exposed to air, so avoid cutting the vegetable until you’re ready to cook it. Eggplant can be added to a wide variety of cooked dishes, or eaten on its own.
Here are five more ways to enjoy eggplant:
- Grill eggplants whole (with a couple of holes poked in them to let the steam escape) or grill them halved or sliced and lightly coated with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs.
- Roast eggplant slices for sandwiches.
- Add cooked cubed eggplant to a tomato sauce and serve with whole-wheat or quinoa pasta (on Phase 2).
- Make baba ganoush by roasting the eggplant, removing the flesh and combining in a food processor with fresh lemon juice, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, minced garlic, cumin, and paprika. Add chopped parsley before serving.
- Steam halved baby eggplants, score, then drizzle with a mixture of a little sesame oil, some reduced-sodium soy sauce, and a little cider vinegar for a delicious appetizer.