Eggplants intimidate a lot of home cooks. Their other worldly appearance, coupled with the whole having to salt them before cooking business means that many people just avoid them altogether. And that’s a shame, because these delightful vegetables can really be very delicious when prepared correctly, but it all begins with knowing how to buy eggplant, choosing the right one. Pick badly and you’ll end up with a bitter vegetable that will only confirm everyone’s belief that these are terrible things to eat.
So, just what do you start with when you are heading to buy eggplant? The first thing is to look for is a place that sells them fresh. Your supermarket is probably not the best place to go, though it will do in a pinch. Often, supermarket food is imported, meaning the eggplants were picked a while back and preserved. Instead, look for a farmer’s market where you can choose vegetables that were picked only this morning.
Color: Your eggplant should be glossy and purple in color . . . eggplant hued. If it has gone dark purple, then you should probably avoid it, a more violet tone is best and means the vegetable is young still. Older eggplants are bitter and the seeds are more developed, making them annoying to eat.
Size: In general, the bigger the eggplant, the more bitter it will be. Look for smaller sizes, about the length of your hand to get the best flavors.
Feel: A ripe eggplant will feel heavy for its size. Heft it in your hand to check. Also, you should be able to squeeze it and the flesh should give slightly. It will feel like squeezing a ripe orange, more or less. If the flesh doesn’t spring back and it feels a little soft, the eggplant is too old. If it’s still hard, the vegetable is unripe and should not be selected. Be careful to pick just the right one.
Looks: When you buy eggplant, look for those that are blemish free. Yes, spots can be cut out, but they often infuse a bitter taste throughout the vegetable which can be very unpleasant.
If you have chosen well, your eggplant will have fine, undeveloped seeds, firm, spongy flesh and a rather pleasant flavor. Reduce the bitterness by soaking in salt water or by sprinkling with salt and allowing to sit for 10 minutes before preparing any recipes. This will help reduce any bitter flavor and also firms up the flesh, making it easier to cook.