When you hear "eggplant," you may imagine an oblong, deep dark purple vegetable with a jaunty green cap attached to it. No doubt that that is the most common type of eggplant found in the U.S., yet the world of eggplants is much bigger—and sometimes smaller, fatter, or skinnier. Some are sweeter than others, or more bitter. You'll find greener varieties, as well as white. There are varieties with a lot of stripes while others are completely solid in color. The flavor is generally consistent, but there is more range than most people realize.
Whatever color and shape of eggplant you're buying, always choose eggplants that have smooth, shiny skin and feel heavy for their size. There is some controversy as to whether salting the eggplant before cooking is necessary; many cooks feel this technique removes the bitter flavor, but others feel it is unnecessary.
01 of 07
Globe Eggplant (a.k.a. American Eggplant)
Should we be surprised that globe eggplants, the biggest and fattest of eggplants, are also known as American eggplants? Their big, meaty texture makes them particularly well suited for slicing and grilling. Their size also makes them good candidates for roasting or grilling whole.
The meat of the eggplant acts like a sponge so when frying in oil you will want to be sure not to have the vegetable absorb too much. Coating the slices in flour beforehand will help keep the eggplant from becoming too greasy.
02 of 07
These large dark purple eggplants are a bit smaller than globe eggplants and often have a teardrop shape. They tend to have a sweeter flavor than globe eggplant. They aren't officially Italian but are labeled as Italian in the U.S. and used in Italian recipes, such as eggplant Parmesan and melanzane fritte al pomodoro, fried eggplant in tomato sauce. As with all eggplant, you need to cook the Italian variety thoroughly to bring out the flavor and achieve a creamy texture.
03 of 07
Although named Japanese (or Chinese) eggplant, these longer and thinner eggplants aren't restricted to Japan or Japanese cuisine. Their slim shape makes them particularly good for cutting on the bias (a.k.a. "roll cutting") and stir-frying in big chunks. Use this type of eggplant in recipes for Szechuan eggplant in garlic sauce, pan-fried eggplant with miso, and Thai grilled eggplant.
Japanese eggplant comes in a range of shades of purple, including a deep almost-black purple. You may find that other varieties of comparatively long and skinny eggplant will be labeled as Japanese.
04 of 07
Rosa Bianca Eggplant
You may have trouble resisting this variety at the market because they are so darn pretty; unfortunately, the beautiful purple and white markings on this eggplant do not retain their vibrancy once the vegetable is cooked. Rosa biancas are somewhat bulbous in shape and have a slightly more delicate flavor and less bitter tendencies than their more purple cousins. There are also fewer seeds, making them ideal any eggplant recipe. Use them to make baked eggplant, Greek stuffed eggplant (melitzanes papoutsakia), and Israeli eggplant and red pepper salad.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
These cute and squat eggplants are common in Indian cooking. They are good to slice and fry or cube and stew. Use Indian eggplant to make a vegan eggplant baigan ka bharta, a mashed spiced eggplant dish; or try them in bharvaan baingan, stuffed eggplant.
Another great technique is to cook whole, scoop out the tender insides, and use the flesh to make a classic raita.
06 of 07
These small eggplant orbs common in Thailand aren't always green—they come in purple and white, too—but they definitely have a tendency to be more bitter than other types of eggplants. To minimize this, be sure to remove their seeds before cooking.
Brining them before cooking also helps to draw out their bitter essence. Thai eggplant stands up well to lots of spice and stewing, making them ideal for adding to curries. You should also consider a recipe for a vegan Thai basil eggplant, or use them in Thai green curry with beef and eggplant.
07 of 07
There's no real flavor difference between white eggplant and other colors, but they sure look cool. Their flavor is a bit more delicate; if the strong, bitter flavor of eggplant is a tad much for you, white eggplant is a good choice.
Although the vegetable's unique color won't take center stage, turning these eggplants into dips such as a Lebanese moutabel spicy eggplant dip or baba ghanoush (Middle Eastern eggplant dip) is a great way to use them.