There's no wrong way to prepare eggplants this fall

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By: Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross
lienhart@purdue.edu

woodleywonderworks/Flickr

While there’s nothing like fresh tomatoes, another favorite vegetable for me this time of the year is eggplant. Eggplant is so good for you and there are so many different ways to prepare it. This versatile vegetable belongs to the nightshade family, which the tomato also belongs to.

Most of us think of just the purple eggplant, but they are cultivated in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. All have a thin, glossy, edible skin, a pale whitish-green flesh that becomes soft and watery when cooked, and a mild flavor that combines well with many flavors such as cheese, herbs and tomatoes.

The flesh of the large, globular Western eggplant has more moisture and is more bitter than the Asian varieties. To draw off or draw out some of the bitter juices, Western eggplant is often salted before cooking.

The peak availability for eggplant here is July through early fall, but it is available year-round in the grocery store.

When selecting eggplant, choose ones that feel heavy for their size. The skin should be shiny and smooth and the flesh should feel firm without bruised areas. Eggplants with the concave end are male and they will have fewer seeds, the convex-ended eggplants are females and have more seeds. There is really no difference in flavor — just a difference in the amount of seeds. But, fewer seeds is better and the male is also meatier.

My favorite way to eat eggplant is french fried. Cut the eggplant in strips, dip in egg and milk and then roll in seasoned corn meal and let rest a few minutes. Heat oil to 350 degrees and add the eggplant. As it floats to the top, remove and drain. I also have pan fried it this way, as well as baked it.

While the eggplant is frying, melt 1 cup of cheese food such as Velveeta in the microwave and add 1 tablespoon of yellow mustard and 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise; mix together. Dip the french fried eggplant in the cheese mixture or cocktail sauce and enjoy.

Eggplant also can be baked in a casserole, sliced and fried, skewered and grilled, halved, stuffed and baked, stewed with tomatoes and peppers or with oil and garlic, or sliced, layered with cheese and tomato sauce, and baked for eggplant parmesan.

The bottom line: the flesh of eggplant takes on the flavors of the seasonings you put with it.

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