Eggplant -- an edible member of the nightshade family -- is a sun lover that matures to its true beauty when the days are long and hot and the nights are warm.
But even in this prime weather, it is highly perishable. Indeed, a truly fresh eggplant will keep in the refrigerator for only three days.
Eggplant is low in calories, about 30 in one cooked cup, depending on the type and quantity of oil used in cooking.
Be sure when selecting eggplant to do so carefully, following these guidelines:
* Smaller is better with a sweet and rich flavor.
* Cap should be green, a little fuzzy and fresh-looking with about one-half-inch of stem still attached. The stem left intact during harvesting will prevent premature moisture loss.
* Skin should be taut and shiny. The skin will begin to wrinkle and soften while turning dull as the eggplant begins to spoil after picking. Dull skin is also a sign of a more mature eggplant which will have browner seeds and a bitter flavor.
* Heaviness and firmness characterize the best and freshest eggplant.
* Seeds, when the eggplant is cut open, should be pale, not brown.
* Look at the end of the eggplant opposite the stem or cap. If the end appears oval, the eggplant will have fewer seeds and more meat. If it appears round, the eggplant will have more seeds and less meat.
* Avoid dull-skinned, wrinkled, light and spongy eggplant. Any with bruises or shriveling should be passed over.
Grilled Eggplant Salad
2 medium eggplants
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
2 medium-size sweet or mild onions, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup of sweet basil leaves
2 large red tomatoes, cut into 4 slices each
4 sprigs of basil or other fresh herbs for garnish
Peel the eggplant and slice one-half-inch thick. Sprinkle all surfaces with the kosher salt and place in a colander. Cover with a bowl containing a couple of cans of food for additional weight. Allow the salt to draw out the moisture for about 35 to 40 minutes. Rinse the eggplant under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels. Rub the eggplant slices with one-half cup of the olive oil. Preheat grill. Place the eggplant on the grill, searing well, about four minutes. Then turn over and cook until tender, about four minutes. Transfer to a dish and season with black pepper to your taste. Add one-half cup of the olive oil. Rub the surfaces of the onions with one-quarter cup of the olive oil. Place the onions on the grill, cooking until well-seared, about three minutes. Turn over and grill for two minutes. Remove to a plate, season with salt and pepper to your taste and reserve. Combine the vinegar, basil, one-quarter teaspoon salt and black pepper in a blender. While the blender is running, slowly add the remaining three-quarers cup olive oil. Add a little white wine or water, if necessary, to maintain a sauce-like consistency. Adjust the seasonings to taste. On the serving plate, alternate slices of eggplant, onion and tomatoes. Spoon the sauce across, garnish with herbs and serve. Serves four.