Today, eggplants (called aubergine in France) come in all shapes--from small, round fruits, about two inches in diameter, to the popular large oblong Black Beauty variety, which can range up to 12 inches long. There is also Japanese eggplant, which is long and thin, resembling zucchini, and has fewer seeds. (The seeds are edible in all varieties.)
Eggplant colors range from white to lavender to dark purplish-black as well as pale green, yellow and reddish.
There are even some striped varieties. Various eggplant varieties may be used interchangeably in most recipes, unless the skin color is a specific visual factor in the dish.
How to Buy Eggplant
Although available year-round, prime time for eggplant is August and September in the United States. When buying, choose eggplants with smooth, shiny skin, heavy for their size, and having no blemishes, tan patches or bruises. Wrinkled, loose skin is an indication of age, and the fruit will be more bitter. Smaller eggplants have fewer seeds, thinner skin and tend to be sweeter, more tender and less bitter.
Press your finger lightly against the skin. If it leaves a light imprint, it is ripe. If it is too soft, it is too old and will be bitter. Looking for fewer seeds? Check the blossom end of the fruit--a larger scar generally means fewer seeds.
How to Store Eggplant
Eggplant is quite perishable and will not store long.
Depending on the freshness factor of the eggplant at the time of purchase, it may be refrigerated for up to 4 days (up to 7 days if you pick right from the garden). However, it is best to use them as soon as possible, preferably within a day.
Handle eggplants gingerly, as they bruise easily. If you purchase them wrapped in plastic wrap, remove the wrapper, cover in a paper towel, and place in a perforated plastic bag before storing in the refrigerator vegetable bin.
Do not store raw eggplant at temperatures less than 50 F (10 C).
Cooked eggplant may be refrigerated up to 3 days (it will get mushy when reheated) or frozen up to 6 months in puree form (add a little lemon juice to discourage discoloration). It holds up fairly well in chunks in soups and stews when thawed in the refrigerator, but not as chunks on its own.
How to Freeze Eggplant
Before freezing eggplant, you will need to follow a few steps. First, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have a large container of ice and water to fit the eggplant.
For slices: Peel eggplant and slice about 1/3-inch thick. Work quickly or the peeled eggplant will begin to brown. Place slices into boiling water and cover for 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the slices to the ice water to stop the cooking. When cool, thoroughly drain slices and pat dry. Separate slices with plastic wrap, place into freezer bags, squeeze out all the air, and seal tightly.
For chunks: Use the same process as above, except cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes. You will not need to separate the chunks with plastic wrap.