Until recently, I never really liked eggplant. Yes, it was a texture thing—they seemed too slimy and too riddled with seeds to count as good eating. But it was also a taste thing. Somehow, eggplants managed to be at once bland and unpleasantly bitter. So while I liked how my college housemate called his girlfriend "my eggplant" (so much sweeter and more intimate than calling someone "baby" or "honey," don't you think?), I could never quite get on board with the smoky baba ghannouj or stir-fried eggplant he made for dinner.
But then I discovered what a little (or sometimes a lot) of oil can do to unlock the eggplant's hidden soul. A few years ago, I sampled battered and fried eggplant, where the sizzle in hot oil rendered the vegetable mush into a crackly, creamy-centered dream. More recently, I tried marinated eggplant, which gets fried before sitting in a flavor-packed garlic and vinegar sauce. Of course, oil makes almost anything taste better—so it's no great surprise that I fell for these dishes. But the experience opened up the door I'd shut on eggplant, giving me the opportunity to be surprised again and again by a vegetable (botanically a fruit) I had given up on. There's a life lesson in there, and a lot of good meals.
Early fall is smack in the middle of eggplant season, and farmers' markets offer many different varieties, from the zaftig deep-purple fruits we all know, to bulbous Sicilian, miniature Indian, and svelte, cucumber-shaped Japanese eggplants. With a slew of delicious, globally-inspired recipes from classic Italian eggplant Parmesan to an Iraqi-Jewish eggplant and cucumber sandwich, now is the time to surprise, delight, and convert even the most fervent eggplant skeptic.
Briefly frying eggplants before stuffing with lamb and vegetables gives them extra flavor.
Sicilian Eggplant and Tuna Salad
Toss sauteed eggplant with oil-packed tuna and capers for a simple warm salad.
Mashed Smoky Eggplant with Tomatoes
Eggplants are charred over a gas flame before being simmered with spices and tomatoes in this luscious Indian side.
Eggplant in Garlic Sauce
Chinese eggplant is stir-fried with pork and Sichuan seasonings.
Serve battered and fried eggplant with lemon wedges.
The traditional Greek casserole combines ground lamb, eggplant, and plenty of spices.
Eggplant Smothered with Charmoula Marinade
Sweet and hot paprika-spiced charmoula (a Moroccan spice blend) compliments the warm creaminess of eggplant.
Credit: Christopher Hirsheimer
Lamb Kebabs with Eggplant
Grilled lamb is served on mashed cooked eggplant.
The southern Italian favorite layers fried eggplant with sauce and cheese.
Pasta Alla Norma (Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Eggplant)
Top spaghetti with tomato sauce, roasted eggplant and ricotta salata.
Eggplant with Kasseri and Kefalotyri Cheese
This Greek appetizer bakes eggplant with tomatoes, cardamom, and fresh cheese.
Barbecued Eggplant with Miso Glaze
A palm sugar-sweetened miso sauce glazes barbecued Japanese eggplants.
Eggplant Spicy Sauce
This spicy side dish gets its heat from ginger and red chile oil.
Fried eggplant is marinated with garlic, vinegar and oil, then chilled in the fridge to let flavors meld.
The classic sweet and sour Sicilian spread combines eggplants with green olives, raisins, capers, caramelized onions, and even unsweetened chocolate.
Baba Ghannouj (Mashed Eggplant Spread)
Serve this Middle Eastern eggplant-based spread with pita chips.
Melintzanosalata (Eggplant and Parsley Dip)
Mashed eggplant serves as the creamy base for a spicy but refreshing dip.
Miniature Japanese eggplants are pickled with salt, walnuts, and olive oil.
Eggplant and Cucumber Salad Sandwich
This Iraqi-Jewish sandwich matches fried eggplant with tahini, hard boiled egg, and chopped fresh tomato and cucumber salad.
Eggplant Pomegranate Relish
Pomegranate molasses, mint, and sauteed eggplant come together for a tangy condiment.
Serve an elegant eggplant and basil terrine on a warm summer night.
Leah Koenig is a freelance writer and author of The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen