HARVESTING, STORING, AND COOKING EGGPLANT
Harvest Eggplant: Generally edible fruits will be ready three or four weeks after the plant has blossomed. The fruits of the eggplant are edible from the time they are one-third grown until ripe. They remain in an edible condition for several weeks after they become colored and fully grown. Fruit should be large, shiny, and a uniformly deep color (purple, brown, white, etc). The shiny part is the most important sign. When the side of the fruit is pressed slightly with the thumbnail and an indentation remains, the fruit is ripe. Japanese eggplant may be ready to harvest from finger or hot dog size. If fruit is a dull color and has brown seeds, it is too ripe and should be discarded. White seed becomes brownish in over-mature fruits.
The fruits are usually cut from the plants since the stems are hard and woody. Pruning shears are good tools. The large calyx (cap) and a short piece of stem are left on the fruit. Plants of most cultivars have sharp spines, so care is necessary when harvesting to prevent injury.
Storing Fresh Eggplants - Eggplants are one of those vegetables, like tomatoes, that are not stored fresh in the refrigerator. They need to be cooked within a week of picking.
COOKING WITH EGGPLANTS
Eggplant fruit is usually baked, sauteed, cut into strips or cubes and fried, or stuffed. My favorite dish is to peel the eggplants and slice it in half inch slices. Then coat both sides with flour, then beaten egg, and breadcrumbs. Fry the slices in enough olive or vegetable oil so the oil comes up to about ¼ inch. Fry both sides till golden brown, dry on paper towels and serve. Goes great with a cucumber sauce.
To salt or not to salt - many recipes call for you to salt the slices or cubes of eggplant before cooking. That is designed to force some of the moisture out of the vegetable. This step only applies to large very ripe eggplants with brown seeds. Small or large fresh eggplants out of the garden do not need any salting.
Other recipes we like and can be found on the web or in most general cook books include:
Ratatouille – a side dish using other fresh vegetables with the eggplant
Caponata – a relish from northern Italy, is easy to keep by canning
Eggplant Parmesan – classic Italian dish
Eggplant Lasanga – Use eggplant instead of meat for a vegetarian dish
Here is an eggplant dish on the grill that is terrific - Eggplant Melt
Works best with good sized eggplant. Peel or don't peel and then cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch slices. Coat one side of each slice with olive oil and grill that side until golden brown and a little crispy. Take slices off grill and let sit for ten minutes or so.
Then with one half the grilled slices on the grilled side put a nice slice of mozzerella cheese. On the other grilled slices on the grilled side put a tomato sauce, or sun dried tomatoes, or a thin slice of a fresh tomato. Put a cheese slice with a tomato slice with the cheese and tomato on the inside of this eggplant sandwich. Now coat the out side of the sandwich and grill each side for about a minute. Serve with a nice salad.