Joni Sare, cooking instructor

How to select an eggplant

The more seeds – the more bitter the taste. The more ripe – the more bitter the taste. Solution: know how to pick’m, store’m, and prepare’m.

Question from someone I met yesterday at the Farmers Market:

“So, here’s the deal. (Wife) just walked in with an eggplant that she bought awhile ago & forgot about. Now it’s nice & soft & the question is, is it still salvageable? What do you think? I appreciate any input you may have.”

My answer:

The good news is…. more than likely the eggplant was under-ripe when purchased, and thus will ‘hold up’ in the fridge for 5 or so days, see storage tips below (coming soon).

When buying or using an eggplant – discern the look, feel, smell:

Best:

The skin is shiny, smooth, tight, firm, springs back to shape after light pressure.
Both ends of the eggplant will be free of brown, yellow or other color. The stem leaves will have strong contact and be tight-fitting over the eggplant.
The smell? … little-to-no aroma.
The weight of it feels heavier than you expect for its size.
The inner flesh is white, spongy, free of blemishes.
The seeds are tan and are nestled tightly in the flesh.

Good, but not best:

The skin is starting to shrivel – tightening and pulling here and there, and has a few dimply spots. This happens when the veggie (actually it’s a fruit) starts to dry out, the water content is evaporating. The skin is susceptible to surface pitting and bruising – i.e. it has less resilience leaving an indentation after light pressure, a scar or bruise from bumping/rubbing. The stem leaves could be pulling away from the eggplant.

NOTE: Some of the flavor compounds are lost with the evaporating water, but the good thing is – is that the eggplant will unabashedly absorb more flavors of your marinade. Eggplants have a real knack for being sponge-like, soaking up whatever it comes in contact with, so I do a two-part marinade. First I soak the slices in a flavored liquid – like a herb broth or spiced citrus juice – until its absorbed, under 10 minutes … and then… I brush on the oil – not using as much as I once used to.

The inner flesh is white with just a few brown spots just under the skin surface (like the soft-brown-bruised spots on an apple).

The inner flesh is still spongy and most – if not all – the seeds are still tightly secured to the immediate membrane that surrounds’m.

The smell?  little-to-no aroma (see NOTE below about smells/aromas, coming soon).

What to do: peel the skin, cut away the brown spots, marinate and cook well (more info to come here).

Not-so-good, questionable, but could be edible:

The skin has more brown spots which go deeper – not just at the surface under the skin, there’r more dimples, surface pitting and bruising. When sliced the inner flesh is not-so-white and not-so-spongy. The membrane that connects to the seeds has receded, they fall out easily and the bitter taste is much stronger.

What to do: peel the skin, cut away the brown and not-so-spongy areas. To be on the safe side – do more ‘quality control’ than you think you ought to – meaning to remove more than you think you should. Soak in salt water…. (more info to come here).

Don’t eat:

The skin has mold.
The inner flesh no longer is spongy and the seeds and the surrounding area of the membrane are dark brown, and the seeds fall out easily.
The smell? … can be really bad. … like foul-sock odor. I’ve heard that the bad smell is from the nicotine compounds in the eggplant.

More on nightshades:

The nightshade family includes: tobacco, eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers. Nicotine compounds are found in all the nightshades – very low amounts.

I just did a quick search: “nightshades nicotine” and “eggplants nicotine” …. and found some interesting trivia:

  1. ~nicotine compounds are in the seeds, its what makes’m bitter tasting
  2. ~eggplant has the highest amount of nicotine compounds than any of the other edible nightshades, green tomato is the second on the list
  3. ~takes about 20 lbs of eggplant to reach the same amount of nicotine as a cigarette
  4. ~there are 2,800 plant species in the nightshade family (paprika, cayenne, tomatillos, pimento, morning glories)
  5. ~avoid green or sprouting potatoes, they have higher content of solanine, the compound that is thought to give us adverse health effects like skin issues, joint pain
  6. ~cooking reducing the compounds by about 1/2, so those who are mildly sensitive can tolerate cooked nightshades

This trivia list could grow, but, I’d rather cultivate other things right now, so have fun researching on your own. Feel free to post comments of the things you’ve learned.

Storage tips, to come.

Smells /aromas, to come.

Preparing tips: see in text here and there, above, and more to come here.

Check out these links ….

http://mideastfood.about.com/b/2006/11/16/eggplant-101-tips-on-buying-cooking-and-storing-eggplant.htm
http://www.wonderhowto.com/how-to-figure-out-if-eggplant-is-ripe-rotten-385258/
http://www.ehow.co.uk/how_7298219_tell-eggplant-rotten.html

http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=1qKWtuQcm2kNTZd0VKD_QAt5y-2IxCxXLDMI7bkeCquLZ-2wdZyYXEht6gaGi&hl=en

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