Eggplant–The Most Versatile Veg You’re Not Cooking

The calendar may say October, but here in sunny southern California summer produce is still in plentiful. Pumpkins are everywhere, but the LA farmers markets are still tempting us with their heirloom tomatoes, shelling beans, stone fruit, and berries. We also find ourselves enjoying the final month or so of eggplant season. Get excited because this vegetable (ahem, fruit) is super versatile and can satisfy the most strict plant-based dieters and stalwart carnivores alike. Some may dismiss the humble eggplant relegating it only to dissatisfying memories of soggy, greasy eggplant parm. Or perhaps having vague memories of it swirled with garlic and olive oil for dipping pita, à la baba ganoush. And while baba ganoush can be excellent, eggplant can be destined for so much more. At once meaty and hearty, with a creamy and silky texture, the eggplant finds itself a food with multiple personalities. It can be cut into steaks, grilled, and served as a main, charred over coals and blitzed into creamy, smoky dip (ahem, baba ganoush), cubed and tossed with pasta, and on and on. Here are a handful of recipes that I hope will tempt and inspire you to make the most of this versatile ingredient and think of these summer beauties as worthy of your dinner table spotlight.

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Photo by Jonathan Lovekin, Epicurious

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce (Yotam Ottolenghi, Epicurious)

Yotam Ottolenghi of London’s eponymous delis, as well as the upscale Nopi, gives us this rustic showstopper. From his vegetarian cookbook, Plenty, this recipe is earthy and elegant. Here, thick slices of eggplant are roasted until caramelized and soft. Allowed to cool completely, the eggplant is then drizzled with a cool and tangy buttermilk sauce, and adorned with glittering pomegranate arils. Totally perfect for those trailing last summer nights as a side, or a main. You could even toast some nuts—walnuts or pine nuts—to scatter over and make it even more substantial.

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Photo: David Lebovitz

Eggplant Jam (David Lebovitz, adapted from Tapas to Meze (Ten Speed Press) by Joanne Weir)

This recipe, from cookbook writer David Lebovitz, is seductive. For me it conjures up images of sun-drenched beach picnics in far flung coastal towns along southern Spain, or eaten slathered on coal fired bread under once-colorful sun-bleached tents in an eastern Mediterranean market. Spiced with harissa, cumin, cinnamon, and paprika, this recipe is perfect to top burgers, grilled meats, crispy pita, or as the star of a farmer’s market crudité platter. In other words, it’s versatile. But perhaps even better, it’s unexpected and delicious.

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Ginger-Miso-Glazed Eggplant (Bon Appetit)

It’s all about the eggplant in this umami-rich side dish that utilizes just a handful of Japanese ingredients to make it shine. Here, grated fresh ginger brightens and brings a little hum to this slender Japanese variety. White miso anchors the dish as a deeply savory and earthy side. Serve over sticky, short-grained rice.

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Photo: Smitten Kitchen

Lebanese-Style Stuffed Eggplant (Smitten Kitchen and Gourmet Magazine)

Sweet and delicate baby eggplants are stuffed with a gorgeous and heady spiced meat and rice filling and cooked in a delicate tomato sauce until soft and yielding. The recipe, as written, contains a blend of meat, but is absolutely modifiable according to your taste and dietary preferences. If you’re more veg-inclined you could swap the meat for zucchini or red peppers. Or make it an all-grain filling and add bulgur or quinoa. It’s a winner all around.

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Photo: Scott Phillips, Fine Cooking

Curried Chickpea and Summer Vegetable Stew (by Domenica Marchetti for Fine Cooking)

This stew takes advantage of the best of summer produce. While stew might make you think of cool and rainy evenings, I say no, especially with these summery ingredients. With a base of fresh tomato sauce, the stew layers summer squash, zucchini, and eggplant with aromatic spices and coconut milk creating a rich and deeply flavorful dish. The chickpeas make the stew hearty and filling. If making the fresh tomato sauce ahead of time, the stew comes together quickly. Once the ingredients are added the stew only needs time to simmer allowing the flavors to marry and mingle. That time on the stove, doesn’t require much from you, just the occasional stir. The recipe easily doubles to feed a crowd or to freeze for later.

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Photo: Faith Durand, The Kitchn

Grilled Eggplant Topped with Goat Cheese and Tomato (by Faith Durand for The Kitchn)

Perfect for late summer, this super simple dish comes together with the heat and smoke from your outdoor grill (or your indoor grill pan) and makes the most of eggplant’s meaty texture and the height of tomato season. Creamy goat cheese is used here, but sharp sheep’s milk feta or smoked scamorza would be equally fantastic.

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