What To Keep In Mind When Cooking With Eggplant, According To Gail Simmons - Exclusive

From a culinary sense, fall is centered on the bounty and beauty of the harvest. It's defined by a lush assortment of produce, from hard squashes to hearty greens, beans to brussels sprouts, root vegetables to a rotation of fall fruits, including cranberries, pears, persimmons and more. Whether you're a trained chef or a casual cook, we can all agree there are few things more fulfilling than the ingredients that accentuate the autumn season.

But it can be easy to get caught up in the trendy, over-commercialized fall flavors. At this point, we've all come to expect the onslaught of autumn-themed foodstuffs before the first chill even hits the air. And most of the time it's all things pumpkin and apple spice, with a hearty kick of maple and caramel. But fall produce is so much more bountiful and diverse than your local coffee shop or supermarket might have you believe. And sometimes you need to turn to the pros to help think outside the box when it comes to making the most of this culinary season.

On that note, Tasting Table spoke with chef, foodie extraordinaire, and "Top Chef" host Gail Simmons in an exclusive interview to talk all things autumn, from her favorite dishes and drinks to her top tips for holiday gatherings. And getting away from the usual suspects, Simmons told us she's "cooking with a lot of eggplants at this time of year." Simmons is a big fan of the versatility of this veggie (that's technically a fruit but who's asking?) –- and she claims it's a lot easier to cook with than people may realize. 

"Eggplant can feel intimidating, but it really isn't. It depends on how you're using it," she says. Simmons shared with Tasting Table her top tips for cooking with eggplant, and some of her favorite ways to use this underrated veggie.

Gail Simmons says eggplant is easier and more versatile than you think

When you think of eggplant, it's likely that some of the first dishes to come to mind are the all too common eggplant parm, and maybe your basic grilled eggplant. But according to Gail Simmons, there's a lot more possibility for this fall produce. "I love using eggplant in so many different ways," Simmons told Tasting Table. And no matter what eggplant recipe you use, there are some key things to keep in mind.

Simmons noted that "smaller eggplants sometimes are a little more manageable and easier to cook" than the bulkier ones you might find at the grocery store. Once you've procured your produce, one of the most important things to keep in mind is that "eggplant has a lot of water content, similar to mushrooms," Simmons pointed out. So the first thing you need to do is to "make sure to take out some of that water." 

That way, when your dish is finished, the texture of your eggplant isn't soggy and mushy, but rather "it melts, and that's what you want," said Simmons. She explained that one of the ways to achieve this is "slicing it and salting it and letting it sit for a few minutes to extract some of the water from it," adding that this trick "also can take out a little bit of bitterness." This is especially true when you are using thin slices of eggplant for a recipe such as an eggplant lasagna or ratatouille.

If you're looking for a no-frills way to satisfy your eggplant craving or celebrate this seasonal nightshade, Simmons shared some inspiration. She roasted two whole eggplants for about 30 minutes until super soft, and then mixed the inside flesh with "some yogurt and tahini, lemon and garlic, lots of fresh herbs, and made a really simple baba ganoush."

For the latest from Gail Simmons, follow her on Instagram. Plus find recipes and more on her website.