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The Problem With Eggplant...

It's one of my favorite vegetables. I've been cooking it in various ways for well over fifty years. Eggplant Parmigiano (or more likely Pecorini from me), moussaka, baba ganouj, imam bayeldi, ratatouille, poor man's caviar, stuffed egg plant, and even just plain old fried egg plant.

I have always loved the way it breaks down into a smooth creamy texture with a little time in the pan. But over the last three years or so, every once in a while I get an eggplant that is like some sort of "pod people" mutation. They're like a cross between en eggplant on the outside and a loofah on the inside. Doesn't matter what I do, they stubbornly remain this fibrous plank that is not chewable, no matter how long I cook it. It's sort of soft, but in the way a piece of boiled leather or super thick felt would be.

So far, it has only been a problem with the standard large purple eggplant, but it really is ticking me off. I thought maybe it has something to do with not salting the slices evenly, but that's not it. Today I spent a goodly amount of time dicing onions, bell peppers, zucchini, egg plant, mincing garlic, mixing my own herbs de provence, and simmering what I expected to be a great ratatouille. And the flavor is great but... Some of the cubes of eggplant are simply unchewable. <sigh> Has anyone else had this problem? I hope it's not just me....

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  1. I think they're old. Which would mean your supply is the problem.

    9 Replies
    1. re: jaykayen

      That hadn't occurred to me. You may well be right, but how do you distinguish an aging eggplant? Every one that I've had problems with were firm with clear shiny skin, but I don't recall whether the stems were dried out looking or not... hmmmm... I'll have to pay a lot more attention. Or stop letting the housekeeper do the shopping? '-) (It's nice to have someone else to blame.)

      1. re: Caroline1

        On the contrary, the eggplants you had were under ripe (not old).

        1. re: ipsedixit

          hmmmm.... Well, curiously (or maybe not so much) they were no different than every other eggplant I've used over the years. Large, shiny, deep rich color, no pale spots on them. When sliced, the flesh was exactly the same as the eggplants that were not the illegitimate offspring of an eggplant and a loofah gourd. How do you tell if an eggplant is unripe?

          1. re: Caroline1

            Many times an under ripe eggplant will be light (in weight) for its size.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              And I've always picked the lightest ones because I heard they would have the least seeds. I hope this never happens to me, sounds gross. And disappointing.

              1. re: coll

                I think you're confused. Lighter - as in white, lavender, striped, etc. - are less bitter than the common dark purple variety. Younger ones have fewer seeds than mature ones and supposedly seeds cobntribute to bitterness.

                1. re: greygarious

                  I meant lighter in weight, as ipsedixit was saying. Not that I'm not confused in other ways. Actually those lighter colored ones taste sort of like dirt to me for some reason, never buy them anymore.

          2. re: ipsedixit

            Ahh, ok. I didn't know that.

            I just assumed they were old because loofah only gets to be the loofah you use in the bath when it old. When they are young, they are good eats. But old eggplant tends to be seedy and bitter or tannic.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              Really? Does that depend on the type of eggplant? We grow Black Beauties, which are the traditional dark purple ones, and we pick them at all stages of growth - from about 5" long up through almost 12". The young ones are always delicious, though they'd arguably be "under ripe". The only time I've had loofah ones are when I bought them at the store after the growing season, and I assumed they were bad because they were old...

        2. I have the same problem...it seems to me you can't judge an eggplant by its cover. I choose a shiny and unblemished one. Sometimes it is beautiful inside and out. Then other times it is bitter, sometimes it is full of seeds, sometimes it is loofah like, sometimes there is a worm type creature hidden inside. From the above responses, I now have a better idea of why.

          Are there special guidelines for best eggplant selection? What time of year are eggplants at their best?

          1. I guess this is why I prefer Japanese eggplants. No salting and I've never had a "loofah" problem.

            3 Replies
            1. re: PegS

              Select a female eggplant and it willnot be bitter or tough. A female eggplant is one witha round rather than oval circle at the end. I got this tip from a friend's italian grandmother and it has never let me down.

              1. re: cheeseman3

                Whoda thunk a gender bias is critical in buying eggplants? I'll give it a try. A few months ago I had to fish the eggplant out of a moussaka and throw it away. REALLY ticked me off! Thank you!

                1. re: cheeseman3

                  I have read in a number of places that that is an old wive's tale, that all eggplants are female - hence the seeds.

              2. I had the same problem. My friend and I made 3 trays of eggplant parmesan the other day. He had purchased Sicilian eggplants. They looked like any others we have used in the past but they weren't good. After all the frying and baking, the slices were tough and fibrous. (I did notice that the slices didn't absorb the egg/milk wash at all, which was unusual. )

                So disappointing!

                1. I actually don't think this problem is a result of over-ripeness, under-ripeness and certainly not gender. The eggplant that is currently being mass-produced has been designed to get to a market without blemishes, and to look shiny and pretty.

                  This eggplant variety was not selected for its culinary properties at all. Since it has been genetically selected to not bruise and show damage during transport, it also doesn't "break" down.

                  I have begun buying asian and "heirloom" eggplant since they still seem to contain the properties that we all love in an eggplant. Frustrating in the winter time, when I can still remember how delicious the local farmer's eggplant was just a month or two ago.

                  I would recommend trying some new eggplant varieties. Perhaps your market carries something that still has both the taste and texture of eggplant.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: smtucker

                    Oh what a good response SMT. I have read exactly the same thing recently regarding the newer varieties of "factory farmed" eggplants and other vegetables. It's quantity over quality these days.

                  2. Eggplant is really a summer crop that can be harvested into the fall.
                    Perhaps try cooking them when they are in season. Hard to go months without eggplant though, and now I'm craving some of the dishes you mentioned!