Once upon a time, eggplant had a bad rep. It was thought to cause madness, cancer, and even—gasp—bad breath. But that didn’t dissuade Thomas Jefferson, who toted a handful of seeds back from Europe and planted them in his Virginia garden in the early 1800s. By the twentieth century, eggplant had spread across the country, though for many it’s still a hard sell. For those who aren’t wild about its bitter bite, Matthew McClure, executive chef at the Hive in Bentonville, Arkansas, recommends the Fairy Tale. “It’s a great gateway eggplant,” says McClure, who first discovered the Fairy Tale when he moved back to his home state in 2007 after almost eight years working and attending culinary school in New England. “It’s smaller, with a lighter purple skin, and the flesh is sweet and creamy when cooked.” Start poking around the farmers’ market in June—Fairy Tales are one of the first eggplants of summer—and you’re likely to find someone who’s growing them. Look for the ripened nightshades to be two to three inches long with random striping, and store them in the refrigerator for up to a week. McClure likes to slice his Fairy Tales into half-inch coins, then lightly pickle them before caramelizing in a skillet and adding them to a hearty grain salad. They’re also great grilled alongside pork chops, or roasted, mashed, and served dip-style with a handful of pita chips and summertime crudités. Regardless of the prep, chances are the Fairy Tale will have even the eggplant-averse agreeing that it’s a prince of a veggie.
Fairy Tale Eggplant Three Ways
1. Whip a Dip
“This is a great snack on a warm summer day.”
Halve 3 eggplants lengthwise, season with salt, and toss with olive oil. Roast, flesh side down on a baking sheet, in a 350ºF oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and let cool, then scrape out flesh and discard skin. Puree flesh until smooth, then add 1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin, ½ teaspoon pink peppercorns, and ½ a sliced shallot (for best results soak slices in red wine vinegar for at least 30 minutes first). Pulse in a food processor until smooth, drizzle with red wine vinegar to taste, and serve with pita chips and crudités.
2. Toss a Salad
“I use these creamy little flavor bombs in salads with farro, herbs, and zucchini. Prepare ahead and serve at barbecues.”
Peel eggplant and slice into ½-inch-thick coins. Place in a bowl with 1 cup rice wine vinegar, 2 cups water, and ½ cup sugar. Soak for 30 minutes. Remove eggplant from marinade and let it dry for a few minutes. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a cast-iron skillet. Add eggplant and caramelize, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels, and mix with cooked farro, zucchini, and seasonal herbs.
3. Grill a Side
“During the summertime, it’s nice to cook outside to enjoy the weather and not heat up the house. This recipe is a way to prepare eggplant with that in mind.”
Halve eggplants lengthwise, season with salt, and toss with olive oil; set aside to sweat for a few minutes. Then place eggplant near (but not directly on top of) the hot spot of the grill, flesh side down. Flip every few minutes until there’s a nice char on the eggplant, about 15 to 20 minutes. Dress with a drizzle of red wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sea salt to taste.