In the 17th century, British colonizers in India saw white ovals sprouting from the ground and called them “egg” plants; since then, this vegetable that’s actually a fruit has been cultivated all around the world in a range of colors, shapes, and sizes. Almost as varied: the many ways to cook -- and enjoy -- them.
Sometimes less is simply less -- and that’s a great thing. At a mere two to four inches, this variety isn’t only less hefty than most, it’s less seedy and less bitter, too. It gets tender quickly when cooked, purple skin and all, so halve or quarter it and toss it into any stir-fry.
This sturdy Italian heirloom fits in your hand like a softball and is slow to discolor when sliced. Succulent and meaty, it’s hard to overcook, says Gail Hepworth of Hepworth Farms, in Milton, New York -- so eggplant parmigiana won’t end up mushy.
Named after the Taiwanese city, this skinny eggplant can grow up to a foot long. Leave the peel on and slice it into rounds; they’ll cook and absorb flavors evenly, whether braised or stir-fried. Flavor them with chili sauce for a heady kick.
Oval or squat, this Italian breed is mild and creamy. It’s tasty whole -- roasted or charred -- or pureed into dips like baba ghanoush. As with many large eggplants, deseeding then salting and blotting them enhances taste and texture.
Like an Easter egg, this bright Indian variety measures about three inches long and two in diameter. Cut it into large chunks to braise, stir-fry, saute, or pickle. It’s rarely bitter and cooks fast, as is the case with other small Asian eggplant varieties.
This is often what most Americans think of as an eggplant. As with all medium-to-large European types, it should be plucked when just ripe and eaten within two days. It turns bitter when left too long on the stem (the color will look “stretched”) or on the kitchen counter.
As you’d guess, this breed hails from Asia (Japan specifically); it bears fruit faster than others. It is also good at weathering heat and cold spells, which is why it’s popular among home growers.
You might mistake these for mutant figs, given their color and size. But they're Thai eggplants. You can grill or roast them, but they're especially tasty quartered and tossed in a curry sauce. The white-pink flesh keeps its shape while absorbing flavor.
Characterized by maroon skin and varying degrees of white streaks, the pear-shaped Nubia grows anywhere from four to eight inches long. The skin can be thick and sometimes rubbery, so you’ve got to peel it. Cook it as you would other Italian varietals.
This egg-size breed with deep-violet skin and striking purple flowers cooks similarly to the Calliope variety. Pluck it when the skin is still shiny for the sweetest, most seed-free fruit, says Lauren Giroux of Johnny’s Selected Seeds, in Albion, Maine.
Think of this as the Orient Express but in pastel. Both grow to about nine inches long and are delicately flavored and nearly seed-free. Simply slice it into rounds, then grill, roast, or stir-fry them (try pairing them with a ginger-and-garlic sauce).
This hunky Italian breed grows up to half a foot wide and nearly as long. As with any eggplant, slice or dice it, then grill, fry, saute, bake, roast, or steam. Puree, if you like. But given its stoutness and seediness, it’s naturally built to be hollowed out and stuffed.
Heat waves are not a problem for this high-temperature-resistant breed. It’s tender and works well in Japanese dishes, whether pickled whole or deep-fried as tempura. As with most Asian eggplants, you can eat the nutrient-rich skin along with the flesh.
Handle with care: White eggplants, grown in Italy for millennia and now sold at farmers’ markets, turn up with brown spots when bruised. The Clara, which can reach around six inches long, is meaty and mild, and especially delicious roasted.
Whatever the size (it can be three inches or three times that), you’ll know it’s a Graffiti by the violet and white stripes and oblong shape. Its velvety, almost fruity flesh makes an ideal pureed dip, but, as with any eggplant, it’s also divine roasted or grilled.
This beauty suggests why eggplants have been considered an aphrodisiac. But despite its delicate curves and pink skin, it’s actually quite hardy and yields plenty of fruit. Milder than most Italian varieties, it’s also less prone to bitterness.
Hansel and Gretel
Like the Fairy Tale, the slender, dark Hansel and its white counterpart, Gretel, are generally not much bigger than the length of your palm. All three sprout in clusters and share an easygoing texture and flavor -- even mature ones retain their tenderness.