Eggplant was used as table decoration in the 1900s in America until they discovered the joys of cooking it. While botanically a fruit, eggplant is cooked as a vegetable and is loved in many cuisines, including Mediterranean, African, Asian and Middle Eastern.
The first known eggplants were a white egg-shaped fruit, hence their common name. We most commonly use the curved deep purple variety in New Zealand; however, the long, skinny Chinese eggplant are becoming more readily available.
Eggplant itself isn’t bursting with flavour, but its flesh is like a sponge, which soaks up all the flavours you impart into it. Female eggplants can be slightly more bitter than males, as they have a higher seed content, but as in life, that is the luck of the draw.
Cook eggplant until its flesh is soft and delicate. If anyone says they don’t like eggplant, it’s probably because it’s been undercooked and flavourless, so prove them wrong on your menu.
Char eggplants whole over an open flame until they have collapsed and the flesh is silky. Scrape the flesh out to blitz for baba ghanoush, smoky hummus or other eggplant based dips and sauces. The smoke flavour will impart into the eggplant for an incredible BBQ effect.
As a side dish or vegetarian main, score eggplants and brush with flavoured pastes such as miso, gochujang or soy garlic.
Umami flavours will soak straight into the spongy eggplant, bringing it to life.
Fry eggplant slices for a textural element on your menu. Add substance to braises, curries and stews or hero in worldwide favourites like moussaka or eggplant parmigiana.
Eggplant pairs beautifully with other nightshades such as tomatoes, peppers and chillies. Nutmeg brightens eggplant’s neutral flavour along with spices such as cumin, paprika, sumac or ginger. Eggplant can make a substantial vegetarian or vegan main, but it also pairs with lamb, venison, beef and chicken.
Also known as the American eggplant, it is one of the largest varieties, growing up to 25–30cm in length! The meaty texture makes it best for grilling and slicing.
Teardrop in shape with a deep purple colour, the Italian eggplant has a sweeter flavour to the larger globe eggplant.
These come in a wide range of shades of deep purple, pale purple, or even black! It is best suited for stir-frying, pan-fried with miso, and Thai grilled dishes.
This attractive eggplant has delicate stripes and comes in a variety of sizes. It is best enjoyed when baked, roasted or stewed.
This small eggplant is very common in Thailand and is found in shades of purple, white, and green. To neutralise its bitterness, get rid of the seeds before cooking.
New Zealand's largest grower of eggplants is based in Dairy Flat, Auckland with a number of other growers based in Pukekohe.