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"Why salt that eggplant?"

Dear Anne and Sue,

Why do some recipes call for salting eggplant before using it, and other recipes do not. What difference does salting make?

— Joan

 

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Dear Joan,

It's been a grand growing season for eggplants where we live in Vancouver, Canada as our summer has been spectacular, perfect for vegetables that need a long, hot summer. We're feeling lucky, as this kind of weather isn't always part of a West Coast summer!

Though eggplants come in many shapes, sizes, and colors the most eye catching are fat, shiny, and in a shade of rich aubergine. Of course the smaller, elongated varieties are special too, both the dark purple Japanese variety and the paler lavender Chinese variety.

Once harvested, eggplants don't take well to refrigeration because of their tropical origins. Instead look for a relatively cool spot in your kitchen (50°F) and keep them there. However, also use them as soon as possible, when they're truly at their prime. Those that have lost their sheen and look puffy, are likely overripe, or have been kept too long before purchase. Chances are they'll be bitter with hard seeds.

It's at this point the business of salting arises. Sprinkling pieces of eggplant with salt draws any bitter juices to the surface in beads of moisture. Then they can simply be blotted away with a paper towel. Some experts even recommend a further pressing the eggplant pieces in a kitchen towel to remove extra water, and excess salt before continuing with the recipe.

The process of removing the bitterness from eggplants leaves the eggplant pieces with a denser texture, so they tend to absorb less fat when sautéed before additional cooking. Preliminary salting is often omitted if the eggplants are young and just-picked, or if they are used in a stew or casserole where the bitterness is subdued by lengthy cooking or when potent spices are used. Eggplant is indeed a tasty treat, and combines with other late summer vegetables in rich and memorable dishes.

Cheers,
Anne and Sue

 
 

 

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