Eggplant is a summer favorite, and it fits into almost every cuisine. Serve it swimming in curry sauce, drizzled with lemony tahini, glazed with miso or topped with a Mediterranean-style tomato-feta relish. (That last one is my personal favorite.) No matter how you cook it—on the grill, roasted, sauteed, fried or blended into a tasty dip—it’s always delicious.
If you’re searching for a Japanese eggplant recipe, you’ll find more than a veggie dressed-up with Asian flavors. These long, slender eggplants are actually a unique variety.
What Is Japanese Eggplant?
A Japanese eggplant looks like a skinnier, leaner version of the eggplant you grew up with. It’s a member of the nightshade family along with potatoes, peppers and tomatoes. Like tomatoes, they’re technically a fruit (we can dive into that debate, if you want). Since they’re smaller than purple globe eggplants, you’ll need about one per person for an appetizer or two per person for a main.
When shopping for Japanese eggplants, look for firm, blemish-free eggplants with a shiny surface. They’ll keep in the crisper bin of the refrigerator for up to a week, but taste best if you consume them within a day or two. When you’re ready to eat, don’t bother peeling the skins or salting them to pull out the bitterness; neither preparation is necessary for this variety.
What Is the Difference Between Japanese Eggplant and Regular Eggplant?
For starters, Japanese eggplants are significantly less intimidating than globe eggplants. Their smaller size and thinner profile makes them look more like a baby zucchini than a big, honking eggplant! Once you cut into it, you’ll find fewer seeds than most eggplant varieties (which also means they’re less bitter, since the seeds are responsible for creating bitter eggplant). Finally, the flesh is sweet and creamy with a super spongy texture, meaning they’ll soak up marinades and sauces exceptionally well.
How to Make Japanese Eggplant
You can use Japanese eggplant in any recipe that calls for purple globe eggplant, but you’ll want to buy three of them to equal one large eggplant. Grilling Japanese eggplant is our favorite way to prepare this simple vegetable because it infuses the perfect amount of smoky flavor into the sweet, spongy flesh. Feel free to swap in a miso glaze, sesame-lime sauce or yogurt tahini drizzle if you want to change things up, but this tomato-feta relish is heavenly!
- 4 small Japanese eggplants
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 dry pint of cherry tomatoes, quartered (about 10 ounces)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon minced shallot
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (such as basil, oregano, tarragon or a combination)
- 1 tablespoon chopped kalamata olives
- 1 tablespoon crumbled feta cheese
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Yield: Serves 4 as an appetizer, or 2 as a main
Step 1: Prepare the eggplant
Start by removing the stem end and slicing each eggplant in half lengthwise. Rub the cut ends with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle the kosher salt on top and set aside.
Step 2: Make the relish
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the quartered tomatoes with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, garlic, shallot, herbs, olives, feta cheese, and red wine vinegar. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve.
Pro Tip: You can make this relish a day or two in advance, if you like. A night in the fridge lets the flavors come together, deepening the briny, tangy flavor profile.
Step 3: Grill ’em up
Meanwhile, prepare a gas or charcoal grill for high heat. Grill the eggplant cut-side down for 4 minutes. If you’re going for presentation, feel free to rotate the eggplant 45 degrees halfway through to get cross-hatch grill marks. Then, flip the eggplant over and cook it for an additional 3 minutes, until the flesh is soft and tender.
Step 4: Garnish and serve
Spoon the tomato-feta relish over the eggplant halves and serve immediately. You can also turn the eggplant into a hearty main by slicing it into 1-inch pieces. Toss the slices with the relish and serve them over a bed of arugula, tossed with cooked pasta or as a topping for your favorite grain bowl.