It’s easy to underestimate eggplants, but they’re far more valuable—and versatile—than you may realize. Though often derided as bitter, mushy, spongy, or bland, if you treat eggplant properly, it readily shows off its best sides: silky, tender, and toothsome. It’s also extremely adaptable, lending itself well not only to the more familiar main course preparations, but to all sorts of unexpected snacks, hacks, and sweets, and plays well with all sorts of flavors.
Eggplants, also known as aubergines, are perhaps most famous these days as an Italian ingredient (who doesn’t love a good eggplant parm?), but they were originally cultivated in Asia and show up frequently in curries and stir fries—not to mention in Middle Eastern cuisine (who can resist baba ghanoush?). You may also know them as a popular emoji, but, uh, we won’t get into that here.
A good meat substitute for vegans and vegetarians, eggplants are hearty and delicious enough to please everyone else too. And while they’re not the most nutritionally dense of foods, they’re a great choice if you’re watching carbs (as long as they’re not breaded and deep-fried, of course).
The most common variety you’ll see in the grocery store is the globe eggplant, which is large, oblong (despite its spherical-sounding name), and deep glossy purple—almost identical to the Italian eggplant, which is slightly smaller and usually more tender. Don’t sweat the differences, though. You’re increasingly likely to find Japanese or Chinese eggplants too, long and narrow (more akin to oversize cucumbers in shape), and generally lighter in color, anywhere from pale lavender to deep violet. These tend to have thinner skin, fewer seeds, and flesh that cooks up especially creamy, making them great in stir fries and grilled recipes, but if you can’t find them, you can always substitute the supermarket standard. Other more exotic eggplants are out there (white ones, “baby” ones, various heirlooms, Thai and Indian cultivars), and while they all have their finer points, you can use whichever type you find or fancy in any given eggplant recipe. Incidentally, the first varieties introduced to Europe were much smaller, and pale yellow or white, resembling the eggs of hen or geese, hence the common name we know and love to say today.
Contrary to popular wisdom, you don’t have to salt your eggplant since most of the bitterness has been bred out by now, although as with most things, the fresher, the better. If you see lots of brown seeds in your eggplant when you cut it open, you might want to remove them, as they can be acrid. And if you’re cooking eggplant in a lot of oil or butter (that parm again), you may want to salt it first in order to limit the amount of fat the pieces absorb. Just put the slices or chunks in a colander or on a paper towel-lined surface, sprinkle them with a few pinches of salt and let sit for 15 minutes, then drain (you can gently squeeze out the remaining liquid for good measure) and pat them dry before you use them in your recipe. For eggplant you don’t salt, just go light on the cooking fat you put in your pan and you’ll be golden.
Now that we’ve established they’re forgiving, filling, tasty, healthy, and endlessly adaptable, it’s time to reconsider the eggplant, not only for dinner, but for breakfast, lunch, snack time, and even dessert (yes, seriously, even dessert). Here are 19 delicious ways to work eggplant into your diet at every meal.
If you’re an avowed carnivore, you’re probably reluctant to accept any substitute for bacon, but give this a try and you’ll be bowled over by how delicious it is. Sliced super thin and seasoned to savory perfection (with tamari, maple syrup, sweet paprika, and liquid smoke, among other things), then baked until crispy, eggplant bacon is divine for breakfast, alongside any of the classics (or if you’ve got a bumper crop to cook through, even with eggplant French toast!), but these bowls are especially satisfying and healthy to boot. Vegans and vegetarians can omit the egg and not miss a thing. You can also try your eggplant bacon in breakfast sandwiches or BLTs. Get the recipe.
Shakshuka is a fantastic breakfast dish of eggs baked in spicy tomato sauce, especially popular in Israel, though its origins are elsewhere. This version includes a hearty under-layer of creamy roasted eggplant rich with cumin and coriander, and gilds the lily with crumbled feta on top of the beautifully oozy eggs. You’d be just as happy to eat this for dinner. Get the recipe.
For those of us with a sweet tooth that never sleeps (alas), this bread is a perfectly acceptable breakfast—it’s got eggplant in it, after all. While that may sound strange, it’s not so different from zucchini in baked goods; it lends moistness and the illusion of virtue. Actually, this loaf is quite healthy, with whole grain flour, maple as a sweetener (rather than refined sugar), and just enough dark chocolate chunks to make you happy in the morning (plus, that’s totally an antioxidant). Get the recipe.
We’re going back to the Middle East for this gorgeous and delicious Iraqi-Israeli dish. Street food of the highest order, sabih (or sabich) is pita stuffed with fried eggplant and hard boiled eggs, with various toppings and sauces. This version, inspired by a recipe in the Jerusalem cookbook, swaps spicy chickpeas for the eggs, but feel free to use either, or both. Zhoug (a fiery green cilantro-chile relish), mango pickle, chopped cucumber salad, and tahini top everything off in a glorious mess. Get the recipe.
Ratatouille, as you may have learned from a certain decade-old(!) movie, is a classic French Provençal dish of individually cooked-to-perfection vegetables like eggplant, bell pepper, and tomato (which all happen to be members of the nightshade family), mixed together at the end. This pasta salad grills the veggies instead of stewing, and adds balsamic and fresh basil for brightness. Since it’s good chilled or at room temp, it makes a perfect lunch to pack, whether you’re going on a picnic or just to work. Get the recipe.
Another usual suspect that is no less delicious (why do you think it’s stood the test of time?), caponata is an Italian dish full of punchy sweet, sour, salty flavors that the eggplant pieces greedily soak up. This panzanella brings toasted bread and tomatoes to the mix, for something you can easily make a meal of. (For something similar with a little char, try our Grilled Eggplant Parmesan Salad.) Since panzanella traditionally uses stale bread, it’s sturdy enough to keep well for a day in the fridge, making it another great pack-to-work option. And if you save some toasted crumbs in a separate container, you can add some crunch back to your lunch. Get the recipe.
These sandwiches are like brawny ballerinas: they manage to be substantial and elegant at once. They’re also just as perfect for packing in a lunch box as in a picnic basket. The layers of soft grilled eggplant and roasted sweet red peppers, bright basil pesto, salty prosciutto, creamy, tangy goat cheese, and milky mozzarella, all between hearty slices of chewy ciabatta, are simply superb. (For a similar but simpler option, get our Pressed Eggplant and Pepper Sandwich recipe.) Just leave out the meat and cheese to make them vegetarian and vegan friendly. Get the recipe.
Yes, banh mi are traditionally packed full of various meats—and they are fantastic, but we would have them many other ways. For instance, this roasted eggplant version that manages to be meaty even though it’s totally vegan. The eggplant itself is fabulous (imbued with vinegar, garlic, ginger, and chili paste), and then there’s an umami-rich creamy avocado-based spread, crunchy pickled veggies, and fresh cilantro. This one’s good at room temp too. Get the recipe.
So far we’ve sliced and diced our eggplants, but they’re also wonderful vessels for stuffing full of other tasty things—like this combo of spiced ground beef, nutty bulgur, and crunchy pine nuts. Fresh mint adds an intriguing note, and a rich tomato sauce fragrant with allspice and cinnamon tops it off. (For a lovely meatless version with an herb yogurt sauce, go here. And for an entirely different sort of stuffed eggplant, see this low-carb take on cheesy pull-apart bread.) Get the recipe.
Japanese eggplants are ideal for stir fries since they’re thinner-skinned, virtually seedless, and extra tender, but this dish would still be delicious with other varieties. The sauce is an intoxicating mix of flavors including soy sauce, garlic, fish sauce, sesame oil, and lots of fresh Thai basil, and the whole thing comes together in a flash, always a plus. Feel free to sub shrimp for the chicken if you’re in a seafood mood, or omit the meat entirely. Get the recipe.
Who needs chicken when eggplant kebabs are so luscious and satisfying—especially when they’re paired with a tahini satay sauce? These would be a great fast and filling meal with some rice and a crunchy slaw or salad, or you could make wraps with them. (Jerk seasoning is also fantastic on grilled eggplant, and you can serve it in the same ways.) If you’re a sauce fiend, maybe double the marinade ingredients. And if you can’t get to a grill, these work in a grill pan too. Get the recipe.
You can’t not call this bangin’—the pun is too tempting, and the recipe is too dynamite, not to! It’s based on char-roasted eggplant that’s peeled so the texture of the dish is ultra-creamy, and the fragrant tomato masala is lively with a profusion of spices like ginger, coriander, turmeric, and garam masala. Serve with plenty of rice and naan to sop it all up! Get the recipe.
There are SO many eggplant burger recipes, and it’s no wonder—thick eggplant slices make wonderfully meaty meatless patties that will go perfectly with no end of garnishes. There are messy ones, curried ones, roasted ones, even lamb burgers with eggplant for buns. But we love these crispy-crusted eggplant burgers the most—because they’re fried, yeah, but also because they’re topped with sweet caramelized onions and tangy tomato jam, not to mention feta and parsley-mint mayo. *Drooling intensifies.* Get the recipe.
Crispy eggplant is maybe the best kind of eggplant—especially when there’s something creamy to pair with it. These dangerously easy-to-make eggplant fries are coated in a crisp panko and Parmesan mix accented with oregano and garlic salt, then baked to crunchy-outside-and-velvety-inside perfection. Served with a smoky, zesty chipotle mayo, you will eat every last crumb. (If you’re looking for something a little less spicy, these eggplant fries with marinara are also very tasty.) Get the recipe.
Why should hummus get all the love? Baba ghanoush is too delectable to play second fiddle to any other dip or spread. Roasted eggplants are mashed with tahini, garlic, and lemon juice, and simple as that sounds (and is!), the result is spectacular. Broil your eggplant to get a bit of smoky char if you like. This version adds a little mint, which is a lovely accent. (And this take is a close cousin, but adds toasted walnuts and a little honey for for an interesting spin.) Get the recipe.
What better vehicle to deliver your eggplant dip to your mouth than an eggplant chip? These are baked, so you can literally eat an entire eggplant’s worth of chips and barely consume any calories—good thing, too, because the mix of spices is so compelling you’ll keep popping these til they’re gone. Get the recipe.
While you may never have thought to use eggplant in dessert, there is actually precedent for it—in Italy, particularly in certain towns along the Amalfi coast, you can find a traditional chocolate and eggplant torte that is surprisingly delicious. This version adds creamy ricotta studded with amaretti cookies, toasted almonds, and candied orange peel to the layers of fried, sweetened eggplant and bittersweet chocolate sauce. Get the recipe.
The classic tarte tatin is made from apples, and while it might seem a little crazy to make one using eggplants, they are technically a fruit. Coincidentally, one of their early nicknames was “mad apple” (because they were thought to incite insanity), so maybe this is an especially fitting dessert. The puff pastry provides a light, crisp, flaky shell for the tender eggplant, glazed with a golden, gooey caramel that has a zing of black pepper to offset the sweetness. Get the recipe.
Honestly, the only thing heartbreaking about this dessert is that it won’t last long; it gets gobbled up fast. It’s incredibly rich and deeply chocolatey, more like fudge than cake, especially if you eat it straight from the fridge. (If you’re cool with gram measurements, you might also want to try these paleo chocolate fudge eggplant brownies.) We recommend some milk (soy or otherwise) to wash these babies down. Get the recipe.
— Head photo: Papa Spud’s.