How to Cook Eggplant - Two Recipes


Farmers Market Festival Demonstration: Japanese Braised Eggplant and Eggplant Parmesan

There are those who love eggplant, and there are those who haven’t had it prepared the right way.

At least, that’s my philosophy.  I feel that way about many divisive ingredients*, including beets, tofu, Brussels Sprouts, and kale.  You may think you don’t like it, but there’s a good chance you might change your mind with the right recipe.

I have come to enjoy the maligned eggplant in a number of ways, and I demonstrated two of them at this year’s Union County Farmers Market Festival on Saturday, August 11th (which just so happened to be my 39th birthday).

Before we get into the recipes, let’s clear up a few things:

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What is an eggplant?

The eggplant originated somewhere in Asia but has now been domesticated and grown commercially around the globe.  It is of the nightshade family of plants - along with tomatoes and potatoes - and grows on bushes typically 2-3’ tall.

Why is eggplant called eggplant?

I wondered that same thing for many years.  It wasn’t until I began shopping for seeds at Bakers Creek Heirloom Seed Company that I saw the massive assortment of eggplant varieties that exist, including species like the one shown here.  This most closely resembles the eggplant of old, and the name totally makes sense now.

Lao White Eggplant from  Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds

Lao White Eggplant from Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds

How to avoid bitterness

Look on the bright side of life, drink plenty of fluids, get outdoors, and salt the eggplant.  Salt - as I’ve said many times in the past - is a wonderous thing. It’s not a spice; it’s a mineral and a catalyst for change.  When you toss diced eggplant with a bit of kosher salt, the pH imbalance helps to coax out the bitter juice. Place the salted eggplant in a colander or strainer in a clean sink or a bowl, then give it a little squeeze just before cooking.

Eggplant Recipes

Japanese Braised Eggplant (Nasu Miso)

This is my favorite preparation of eggplant - not just because I’m big into Japanese cuisine, but because it showcases the ingredient so well a packs a punch of flavor.  In true Japanese tradition, nasu miso has sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spice, and (of course) rich umami.

Best of all: it’s super easy to make!

Eggplant Parmesan Bites

I’m amazed at how many people search Google for recipe on how to make eggplant parmesan (or eggplant parmigiana).  It’s not that complicated, people: flour, egg, breadcrumbs. The key is in the breadcrumbs - the right consistency (I like to pulse Japanese panko in a food processor to get that fine texture and better coverage) and the right flavor (finely shaved Parmesan Reggiano and freshly chopped herbs).

*I’ve intentionally left a few items off of this list, knowing full well there is only so much you can do about allergic reactions, genetic predispositions (such as that related to cilantro), or textural issues in things like mushrooms or pineapple.

before you start cookin', make sure you have the right tools to do the job!

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Braised Japanese Eggplant

Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total cooking time: 30 minutes

1 eggplant, large dice
1/2t kosher salt

2T sesame oil
1/2 Fresno chili, minced

2T granulated sugar
2T lite soy sauce
2T mirin
2T cooking sake or white wine

2T miso paste
2T water

1) Place diced eggplant in a colander in a clean sink or over a bowl.  Toss with salt and let rest 10 minutes.
2) Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat.  Lightly squeeze eggplant to remove some of the juice and place into pan along with the minced chili.  Saute, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes.
3) Combine the next 4 ingredients in a small mixing bowl and add to pan.  Continue to cook, stirring, to reduce liquid.
4) Combine miso paste and water in a separate small mixing bowl to dissolve miso.  Add to pan and cook, stirring, to heat through and combine flavors, about 2 minutes.  Garnish with chopped green onion or toasted sesame seeds.  Serve immediately.

Eggplant Parmesan Bites

servings: 4-6
prep time: 15 minutes
total cooking time: 30 minutes

1 eggplant, large dice
1/2t kosher salt

1 c flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 c panko breadcrumbs, ground
1/4c Parmesan, grated
1T fresh herbs, chopped

Oil for frying

2 c tomato sauce

1) Place diced eggplant in a colander in a clean sink or over a bowl.  Toss with salt and let rest 10 minutes.
2) Meanwhile, combine breadcrumbs, parmesan, and herbs.  Heat frying oil to 350F.
3) Gently squeeze a handful of eggplant, dredge in flour, coat with egg wash, then roll in seasoned breadcrumbs to cover.  Fry in batches until golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes.  Remove fried pieces to a plate lined with paper towel.  Serve with warm tomato sauce.