Make the most of this in-season fruit with recipes the whole family will enjoy.
Story By Bailey Gilliam
Eggplant, a delicious berry masquerading as a vegetable, is in season and ready for the kitchen. Its capability to absorb oils and flavors into its flesh through cooking expands its use in the culinary arts, making it the perfect versatile ingredient for your kitchen.
July, August and September are all harvest months for eggplant here in the Lowcountry. Don’t wait too long, as eggplant tastes best when harvested young.
In addition to bringing a unique texture and mild flavor to recipes, eggplant brings a host of potential health benefits. This nutrient-packed food contains good amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals in few calories which makes it a healthy and weight-loss-promoting option. It is high in anthocyanins, a pigment with antioxidant properties that can protect against cellular damage. Some studies have found that eggplant may improve heart function and reduce LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Eggplants are high in fiber and polyphenols, which may help reduce blood sugar levels. They also contain solasodine rhamnosyl glycosides, which some studies have indicated may aid in cancer treatment. Eggplant is a versatile ingredient that can be prepared and enjoyed in a variety of ways, so there is no excuse not to add it to your regular diet.
For the best results, start eggplant seeds indoors and sow them 1/4-inch deep in flats or peat pots. When daytime temperatures are consistently above 70, set seedlings in holes 24-30 inches apart in rows three feet apart. After planting, set 24-inch high stakes 1 or 2 inches from each plant or use cages to provide support. Eggplants will fall over without support. Water well to moisten the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches so the soil is moist but never soggy. Consistent watering is important. Use a soaker hose or a drip system at ground level for the best results. Harvest eggplant 65 to 80 days after transplanting depending on the variety, but don’t wait too long to harvest. The fruit should be ripe when its skin doesn’t rebound to gentle pressure from your finger. The color should look glossy, unwrinkled and uniform in color. Check every few days after beginning harvesting. When harvesting do not pull the fruit, but cut with a knife close to the stem above the green cap, leaving about an inch of it attached.
Eggplant is excellent grilled, roasted, breaded, fried or baked. The thinner varieties of eggplant, such as Ichiban, are more ideal for grilling or roasting, while the traditional varieties, such as black beauty, are better for breading, frying or stuffing. If your eggplant is oversized, the skin may be too tough to eat. Peel before cooking, or bake the eggplant and then scoop out the flesh. If you’re baking eggplant, first pierce the skin a few times to allow steam to escape. Many Italians will tenderize an eggplant so it’s less bitter. Slice, sprinkle with salt and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes to tenderize.
Where to buy
- Farmers Market of Bluffton: Purchase locally grown eggplant from noon to 5 p.m. on Thursdays in Old Town Bluffton. Adam’s Farm and Gardens, Will’s Lowcountry Produce and Tuten Farms are just a few of the vendors with the freshest produce you’ll ever taste.
- Supermarkets: Our favorite spots for eggplant are Publix, Whole Foods, Kroger and Harris Teeter – in that order.
A LITTLE SEEDY: Large eggplants tend to contain more seeds, which can produce a bothersome texture. So, it’s better to get smaller eggplants. Choose eggplants that are shiny and smooth, have no mushy parts and feel heavy for their size. Use your eggplant promptly, since overripe eggplant tastes more bitter.
SAVE FOR LATER: Eggplants can be stored for up to two weeks in humid conditions no lower than 50 degrees. In the refrigerator they will keep for several days. Do not wash or cut in advance to avoid damaging the skin, which will quickly perish if exposed. To avoid discoloring of eggplant after cutting it open for cooking or grilling, use a marinade with salt, vinegar or lemon juice. Use a stainless steel knife to cut eggplant to avoid discoloration.
There’s a reason a Disney film was named after this French dish, and it’s time to make it for yourself. Grab eggplants, tomatoes, squash and zucchini, and you’re on your way to a classic French meal.
- 2 eggplants
- 6 Roma tomatoes
- 2 yellow squash
- 2 zucchini
- Ingredients (sauce)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1-28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- Ingredients (herb seasoning)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
Directions  Heat the oven to 375. Slice the eggplant, tomatoes, squash and zucchini into 1/16-inch rounds and set aside.  Make the sauce: Heat olive oil in a 12-inch, oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, garlic and bell peppers until soft, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then add the crushed tomatoes. Stir until the ingredients are fully incorporated. Remove from heat and add the basil. Stir once more, then smooth the surface of the sauce with a spatula.  Arrange the sliced veggies in alternating patterns (for example, eggplant, tomato, squash zucchini) on top of the sauce from the outer edge to the middle of the pan. Season with salt and pepper.  Make the herb seasoning: In a small mixing bowl, mix together the basil, garlic, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil. Spoon the herb seasoning over the vegetables.  Cover the pan with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes until the vegetables are softened. Serve hot.
- 2 large eggplants, cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 1 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, more for sprinkling
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Olive oil, for drizzling
- 28 ounces marinara sauce
- 2 large balls fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
Directions  Heat oven to 400 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a medium-sized shallow dish, whisk the eggs and milk. In another medium-sized dish, combine the panko, 1 cup of parmesan cheese, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt and several grinds of pepper.  Dip the eggplant slices into the egg mixture and then into the panko mixture. Place the eggplant slices onto the baking sheets, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 18 minutes or until tender and golden brown.  In a 9×13-inch baking dish, spread 1/2 cup of marinara, half the eggplant and top with 1 cup of marinara and half the mozzarella. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, the remaining marinara and the remaining mozzarella. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup parmesan, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a few more pinches of salt.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is nicely browned and bubbling. Remove from oven and top with fresh basil.
This Mediterranean staple is easier to make than you think. Serve this dip with pita wedges, bread, chips, carrot sticks, bell pepper strips–literally anything you can eat. You can also spread this as a garnish for a wrap or sandwich.
- 2 pounds Italian eggplants (about 2 medium eggplants)
- 2 medium cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing and garnish
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- Pinch of smoked paprika, for garnish
Directions  Heat the oven to 450 degrees with the rack in the upper third of the oven. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Halve the eggplant lengthwise and brush the cut sides lightly with olive oil. Place them in the prepared pan with the halved sides down.  Roast the eggplant until the interior is very tender throughout and the skin is collapsing, about 35 to 40 minutes. Set the eggplant aside to cool for a few minutes. Flip the eggplants over and scoop out the flesh with a large spoon, discarding the skin.  Place a mesh strainer over a mixing bowl and transfer the flesh to the strainer and discard any skins. Let the eggplant sit for a few minutes, and shake and stir to remove as much moisture as possible.  Discard the eggplant drippings, drain and wipe out the bowl, and dump the eggplant into the bowl. Add the garlic and lemon juice and stir vigorously with a fork until the eggplant breaks down. Add the tahini and stir until incorporated. While stirring, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Continue stirring until the mixture is pale and creamy. Use your fork to break up any long strings of eggplant.  Stir in the parsley, salt and cumin. Season to taste with more salt and lemon juice if desired. Transfer the baba ganoush to a serving bowl and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Lastly, sprinkle parsley and smoked paprika on top. Serve with accompaniments of your choice or on a sandwich.