Eggplant: good for you!

Today, thanks to Asian and Southern European influences, the eggplant is finding its way into more and more dishes.

If you have decided to introduce eggplant into your family’s dinner table, choose eggplant that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color, whether it is purple, white or green, should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration, scars, and bruises, which usually indicate that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed. The stem and cap, on the end of the eggplant, should be bright green.

To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb. If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not. Before attempting to cook, bear a few things in mind. While its subtle bitterness defines eggplant’s very appeal, if not kept in check, it can be unappealing. To avoid this, some cooks slice or chop uncooked eggplant, sprinkle it with salt and leave up to 30 minutes (sometimes with a weight on top) to remove some of the moisture. Others soak it in salted water for up to several hours prior to cooking. Whole eggplant can be pricked with a fork, roasted or grilled until charred, peeled, and pureed with spices and sour cream or yogurt for a cool, creamy spread. Diced eggplant can be sautéed in olive oil until softened.

For an entrée, toss with cooled pasta, feta and fresh basil; for an appetizer, toss with chunks of bread, diced tomato, red onion and mint; for a side dish, add some summer squash to the skillet. Sliced eggplant can also be grilled or fried. To grill, cut into ½ inch thick slices, brush with oil and sprinkle with spices or herbs and grill on both sides just until tender but not falling apart. To fry, dust with flour or cornmeal; add to skillet of hot oil and cook, turning once, until crisp and golden.