There are different varieties of eggplants available in the supermarkets, each with a slightly different flavor and texture. Some of my favorite are: American globe, Italian, Indian, and Chinese.
The most common variety available in the U.S. supermarkets is the American globe with shiny dark purple skin. This is the largest species of the eggplants, weighing around a pound each. The flesh is white with scattered seeds that have the most concentration in the belly of the eggplant. This variety is good for the Eggplant Parmesan and dolmeh, which is a stuffed eggplant dish. When buying this variety, like all the other eggplants, make sure it is heavy for the size, firm to touch and has shiny smooth skin without any blemishes. If the eggplant feels soft to touch, it is not very fresh and will have a tan-colored flesh inside with a lot of seeds. Also there is a good chance that the flesh will have a bitter taste after cooking.
The Italian eggplant is 8-10 inches long with shiny dark purple skin. It has white flesh with very little seeds and perfect for dips, ratatouille, borani, and stews. The best place to shop for the Italian eggplant is the Middle Eastern supermarkets and some specialty supermarkets, though I have occasionally found them at Costco.
You can prolong the life of fresh Italian eggplants by 7-10 days at room temperature. If you’ve ever tried storing the eggplants in the fridge you’ve probably found out that the firm and shiny eggplants that you picked so carefully start developing soft brown spots within a few days and when this happens the flesh also turns brown and bitter.
To use the over the counter method: Select a plastic or glass bowl large enough to hold the eggplants standing up with the green tips down. Fill up the bowl with enough cold water to cover the green tips. The eggplants stay fresh as the day that you bought them using this method for 7-10 days. I change the water once during this time around the 5th day. The green tips sitting in water will turn soft and need to be discarded before cooking the eggplants, but most recipes call for this anyway!
The Indian eggplants are small globes with shinny reddish purple skin with some light purple streaks. They also have white flesh inside with a moderate amount of seeds. I use these in different stews such as Khoresh Bademjan and sometimes add a few to my Gheymeh. Their size varies between 2-4 inches in diameter. The larger size can be used to make personal size stuffed eggplant, dolmeh. These eggplants are sold at farmers markets, specialty supermarkets, as well as Middle Eastern and Asian markets.
The Chinese eggplants are light purple in color, more slender than the other varieties and vary from 10-15 inches in length. This eggplant has a sweeter taste, hardly any seeds and cooks faster and is more delicate than the other eggplants. I use the Chinese eggplants for dishes that require more velvety texture, such as Kashke Bademjan.
THE METHOD FOR BAKING EGGPLANTS:
If you have ever attempted to fry eggplants, you know that they are the oil guzzlers of the vegetable world. I used to fry eggplants for different Persian and other recipes, but over the past few years I have been baking them when a recipe calls for fried eggplants with great success. The baking method is much healthier than frying, uses less oil, and works for most recipes. The baking directions are essentially the same for all the varieties that I have mentioned above. I have used the Italian and the Indian eggplants below.
Preheat the oven to 450 F, center rack. Remove and discard the stems. Peel the eggplants and cut them in half, or 1-inch slices if you’re using the American globes.
Add the slices to a large bowl and toss with 1/4 -1/3 cup vegetable oil, just enough to barely cover both sides with oil.
Cover a large baking sheet with an aluminum foil, letting it extend on all sides to catch any possible splatter. Drizzle one tablespoon vegetable oil on the aluminum foil. Arrange the eggplants on the foil in a single layer.
Bake for 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven. The eggplants are ready when you can easily poke them with a fork. Switch the oven temperature to broil setting, with the baking sheet still on the center rack, and broil for 2 minutes to brown the tops.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and cool the baked eggplants in the pan for 20 minutes. The eggplants will easily separate from the aluminum foil with a spatula once cooled. If you try to remove them before they cool, they will stick to the foil. Use the baked eggplants right away or refrigerate for up to 2 days. At this stage the eggplant also freezes very well in an airtight freezer proof container for a month. When ready to use, defrost at room temperature for 30-45 minutes and use in the recipes.
Preheat oven to 450 F. Center rack setting. Line one shallow baking dish with aluminum foil extending on all sides to catch the possible oil splatter.
Peel the eggplants and cut them in half lengthwise. In a large bowl add the eggplants and about 1/3 cup vegetable oil. Toss to coat.
Drizzle 1 tablespoon vegetable oil on the prepared baking sheet.
Arrange the eggplants in a single layer on the foil. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the eggplants are soft when poked with a fork.
Without removing the baking sheet, set the temperature to broil and continue broiling for about 2 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set aside to cool for 20 minutes. The eggplants will easily separate from the aluminum foil once cooled.
I have used Baked Eggplants in these recipes: