Full and Bosomy to Narrow and Sleek—Eggplants!
It is August and time for eggplants…
Eggplants can be as petite as a plum or as large as a cantelope; chubby or oblong; glossy purple to striped violet, to antique ivory in color. No matter which variety, eggplants add bulk and fiber to one’s diet, and the subtle flavor and melting consistency provides a bare minimum of calories, which is a real plus for health conscious folks. Most people are familiar with the full and bosomy purple eggplant, but today, I will take things a step further…
New varieties versus our “old” eggplant…
Broadly speaking, these newer varieties offer more nuances of taste, color and texture, as well as differences in sizes and can be used for a different range of cooking techniques:
White eggplants are egg-shaped, whatever size, are firmer and less moist, and they hold their shape better than the purple ones. The flesh can be heavily seeded, but it is creamier and less bitter. The skins of white eggplants are considerably thicker and tougher, so I would not want to include white eggplant in recipes in which the skin is left on, or when you want a dish to have a paler color. However, this variety will not become mushy even when steamed, baked or fried, and is a great choice when a recipe calls for stuffing and rolling up slices.
Italian or Baby Eggplants
These small eggplants are a deep shade of purple in color (some can be striped), and can be round or chubby in shape, and are comparable to “conventional” varieties, but have a more delicate skin and finer flesh. Italian eggplants are delicious grilled or fried and remain velvety firm even after peeling. The more dwarf varieties make wonderful stuffed individual appetizers, or leave the skin on, slice thinly, and top a pizza—a favorite of mine!
Purple and striated smaller eggplants that are narrow and almost straight, Japanese varieties will give you more skin per eggplant, yet the flesh cooks up tender, smooth and creamy. These eggplants grill well, can be stuffed (they look like little dragons and make a lovely presentation this way), halve and fry, or cut into chunks and steam (see the recipe below). Japanese eggplants have become very popluar in the last few years and many farmers are now growing this variety. Japanese eggplants are my personal favorite.
A pale violet or amethyst in color, Chinese eggplants are slim and sleek looking and light in weight. They are sweeter and more tender than the Japanese variety and contain feweer seeds. These are also delicious grilled or quickly pan-fried.
Usually found in Asian groceries and used in curries, pickled, or eaten fresh in chili sauce as in South America, these little eggplants are hard, round, and either green or white, or a combination of green and white in color, and grow in clusters. This variety is not well known here in the United States, but if you live in a warmer climate like California or Florida, you could probably grown some in your back yard.
CLICK TO DOWNLOAD: BLOG 2017-Steamed Eggplant with Sesame Oil and Thai Basil
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Steamed Eggplant with Sesame Oil and Thai Basil
Makes about 4 servings
This is a speedy dish because eggplants are cut into chunks and steamed! I used all the eggplants in the photo above—Italian eggplants, Japanese Eggplants and a lone Chinese eggplant—I peeled the striated and the Italian variety because I thought the skin a bit tough; the rest I simply chopped into chunks.
Toasted sesame oil is now available in most grocery stores and is a part of my kitchen staples. A little goes a long way, so start out sparingly, perhaps a teaspoon at a time—or just a drizzle. One can always increase the amount as you go and to your preference. I did not salt any of the eggplant prior to steaming, but you may do so if you choose. Many people skip this step and others swear by it. Traditionally, eggplant is salted to remove any bitterness. Although it does draw out moisture which is helpful in some dishes, I find is just adds to prep time—the choice is yours.
I like Thai basil, but you can use any freshly chopped herb—cilantro, parsley or mint also work well. Garnishes are optional, and in the photo, I chose pickled turnips in beet juice to accompany, giving the presentation a nice pop of color. I found tamari and more sesame oil drizzled over my portion to be delicious.
6 small eggplants, about 4 ounces each
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil or more to taste
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼-cup fresh Thai basil leaves
1 tablespoon freshly minced scallion greens
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Tamari, soy sauce, or fish sauce to serve (optional)
- If using small white eggplant or Italian eggplants, peel, and cut into 2-inch chunks; Japanese and Chinese eggplants need not be peeled, just chop into chunks.
- Put the eggplant into a steam pot or bamboo steamer, drizzle with a teaspoon of sesame oil and sprinkle with half of the salt. Gently tear half of the basil leaves and toss into the pot; cover and steam 7-9 minutes, or until the eggplant is just fork tender.
- Immediately remove the eggplant from the heat and transfer to a serving plate.
- Gently tear and scatter the remaining basil leaves and scallion greens over the eggplant; drizzle with the remaining sesame oil, sprinkle with the remaining salt, and grinds of black pepper to taste. Serve the dish hot or room temperature.
NOTE: I drizzled seasoned rice vinegar over leftover eggplant, and it was delicious. Try it!
I hope your summer is going well and remember if you have any questions at all, please leave a comment or contact me. Stay tuned for “recipes to bridge the seasons”—signature recipes that pay homage to the bounty of prime farm vegetables and the sun-drenched harvests of September. Blessings on your plate!