Much like their tomato cousins, eggplants are at the center of a very important debate: Are they fruit, or are they vegetables? Though they’re often mistaken as the latter, eggplants are actually berries and part of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes and potatoes. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t treat them like veggies—they can be made into a spread or mixed with pasta or turned into fries—and their versatility makes them the perfect go-to ingredient.
But there’s more to life than the big purple ones you’re familiar with: Meet the Chinese eggplant.
What is a Chinese eggplant?
Chinese eggplants are long and thin with vibrant lavender skin and white flesh, and can appear either crooked or straight. They taste mildly sweet and hold up when cooked.
What other types of eggplant are there?
When you see the word “eggplant,” that’s usually referring to the large varieties most often found in grocery stores, which are called globes. They’re hefty, have little green caps, and tend to be more bitter, meaty and flavorful.
There are many other varieties of eggplant, too—graffiti, Indian, Japanese and Italian, to name a few. While each is delicious in its own right, unique properties make a certain type best suited for certain dishes.
What’s the difference between eggplant and Chinese eggplant?
Chinese eggplants have fewer seeds than globes, which reduces their bitterness. And they have a thin skin. While they can be substituted for each other, globes may be less sweet, influencing the outcome of the final dish.
How do you pick the best Chinese eggplant?
Picking Chinese eggplant is the art of picking any eggplant. Look for ones that are firm and have shiny skin, and avoid any blemishes or soft spots. This means that they’ll be young, tender and full of flavor.
Do you need to salt Chinese eggplant?
Nope! Because they have fewer seeds, Chinese eggplants are less bitter than globes and do not need to be salted. Salt is used to draw out bitterness, but this variety is naturally sweet. In fact, if an eggplant is picked fresh, it most likely doesn’t need salt, no matter the variety.
How to Cook Chinese Eggplant
What can’t you do with Chinese eggplant? They shine in stir fries, as pickles or braised. Try them in this recipe, from North Carolina reader Allyson Meyler. It calls for conventional eggplant, but the Chinese eggplant’s inherent sweetness will be accentuated by the lime juice and sesame, letting the spices shine. It makes six tasty servings.
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1-1/2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 1 medium eggplant (1-1/4 pounds) cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Thinly sliced green onion and sesame seeds
Step 1: Get grillin’
In a small bowl, whisk the first seven ingredients until blended. Then, brush 2 tablespoons of the juice mixture over both sides of the eggplant slices. Grill, covered, over medium heat 4-6 minutes on each side, or until tender.
Step 2: Add a garnish
Transfer eggplant to a serving plate. Stir honey and pepper flakes into the remaining juice mixture and drizzle it over the eggplant. Sprinkle with green onion and sesame seeds.
Need more eggplant in your life? These recipes are a good place to start.