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Farmers market report: Eggplant is in season (and we’ll tell you some ways to prepare it)

Seasonal eggplant, left to right: Chinese, White Cloud, Rosa Blanca, Fairytale, Marcha, and, in the foreground, Calliope.
(Eric Boyd / Los Angeles Times)

What’s in season: We often think of eggplant (also called aubergine) as a vegetable because we find it in so many savory dishes, but eggplant is actually a tropical fruit. There are a number of varieties to choose from — the dark globe or slender Japanese varieties you might find at the supermarket, and the small round Thai, striped Calliope, White Cloud and other unique and heirloom varieties available at farmers market stands now through when the season typically ends in October. While some of the Asian varieties are prized for their bitter qualities, it’s age that causes most eggplant to become bitter; so when selecting, look for young, firm fruit that are almost hard to the touch.

What to cook: Eggplant readily lends itself to a wide variety of cooking methods, whether quickly thrown on the grill, or slowly roasted or sautéed to tenderness. Purée cooked eggplant to make a classic baba ghanouj, tapenade or other dip, stuff it, or toss the cooked fruit with aromatic oil, fresh herbs and feta cheese for a Greek-inspired salad. You can also salt eggplant to remove excess moisture and make for a silkier texture before deep-frying.

What’s on the horizon: Okra and tomatillos are showing up at some market stands.

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KUZINA’S BUTTERFLIED ROASTED EGGPLANT SALAD

Total time: 30 minutes, plus 2 hours steeping time for the aromatic olive oil | Serves 2

Note: The garlic olive oil and aromatic olive oil can be prepared up to 2 days in advance.

GARLIC OLIVE OIL

Peeled cloves from 1/2 head of garlic, about 7 to 8 cloves

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Greek

In a small saucepan, combine the garlic and oil and cook over low heat until the garlic turns a faint golden color, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain and discard the garlic cloves. This makes about 1 cup garlic-infused oil, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe. The oil will keep up to 2 days, refrigerated.

AROMATIC OLIVE OIL

1 bunch fresh herbs (any type desired)

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Greek

Blanch the herbs in a pot of boiling water until brightly colored, about 20 seconds. Drain and dry thoroughly. Place the herbs in a blender and pulse to chop, then add the olive oil and pulse to combine. Set aside for about 2 hours to steep, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer. This makes about 3/4 cup aromatic oil, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe. The oil will keep for to 2 days, refrigerated.

EGGPLANT SALAD

1 eggplant

Garlic olive oil, as desired

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon diced tomato

1 tablespoon crumbled Greek feta cheese

1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme

1/4 teaspoon chopped parsley

Aromatic olive oil, as desired

1. Roast the eggplant on a grill or stovetop burner until charred on all sides and the interior is very soft, 6 to 10 minutes depending on the heat.

2. Holding the stem in place, butterfly the eggplant so it opens almost like a panel, with the flesh totally exposed. Score the flesh crosswise.

3. Drizzle over a little garlic olive oil, the salt, tomato, feta and thyme. Garnish the eggplant with parsley and a drizzle of aromatic olive oil. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 199 calories; 4 grams protein; 16 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams fiber; 15 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 4 mg. cholesterol; 7 grams sugar; 1,221 mg. sodium.

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