Honestly, I hadn’t tried making fermented eggplant until this summer. Mostly because I couldn’t see a culinary purpose for such a thing. I mean, eggplants get pretty soft and mushy all on their own. While they are delicious (eggplant Parmasean anyone?), they just didn’t seem fermentable.
However, when I started to work on my cookbook, I decided to read EVERY fermenting cookbook that had been published in the past few years. It was important to make sure that my cookbook wasn’t just a repetition of what was already out there. And I was surprised to see several recipes for fermented eggplant. So I had to try it myself.
Many types of eggplant pickles
Once I started to think about it, I realized that there are a lot of different types of pickled eggplants. A few different varieties that I’ve tried and enjoyed were:
However, Brad is a particular fan of the Italian-style pickled eggplant. We use to live in an Italian neighborhood, and pickled eggplant was something he’d buy regularly (along with focaccia and provolone).
Italian-Style Fermented Eggplant
Italian-style pickled eggplant can be cured in oil (melanzane sott’olio) or vinegar (melanzane sott’aceto). And most recipes involve a combination of pickling the eggplant vinegar, then storing it in oil. The recipe below is for a simple, Lacto-fermented eggplant with the option of storing it in oil after fermenting.
How to serve fermented eggplant
Honestly, Brad just loves eggplant pickles. Here’s just a few ways to enjoy these Italian-style pickles:
- Antipasto: Traditionally eggplant pickles are served as antipasto. They are perfect as part of a platter, with cheese, bread and olives.
- Sandwiches: Brad really loves to add them to sandwiches. They add a both texture and flavour.
- Pizza or pasta topping: It’s delicious with pizza or pasta.
- On crackers: Oddly enough, Brad most frequently just eats them straight up with crackers. He’s a pretty snacky kind of person, and will gladly eat whatever happens to be in the cupboard.
Italian-Style Fermented Eggplant Pickles
These Italian-style fermented eggplant pickles are a simple version of the traditional pickle. It’s up to you whether you serve them with the tanginess of fermentation or finish them in oil. Either way, they’re delicious!
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 30 minutes
- Yield: 1.5 quarts 1x
- Category: Pickles
- Method: Fermented
- Cuisine: Italian
- Diet: Vegan
- 1.5 kg (3.5 lbs) eggplant (any variety works, just avoid really fat eggplants that might be full of seeds)
- 1/4 cup of salt (non-iodized)
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
- 2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional, for spicy pickles)
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 Tbsp dried oregano
- 1 1/2 cups of water (chlorine-free)
For finishing in oil
- 1 cup of vegetable oil (olive oil will harden in the fridge)
- Wash the eggplant and remove some of the peel in long strips, so that about half the peel is left. You want enough peel to provide some texture, without it being overwhelming. Cut the eggplant into 1 cm (1/4 inch) circles, then cut the rounds into thin strips.
- Place the eggplant in a large bowl and toss it with the salt so that all the pieces are evenly covered. Loosely cover with a tea towel and leave the eggplant to sweat for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Place the garlic, red pepper flakes, fennel, and oregano into a 1.5-quart jar (or divide between two smaller jars) for fermenting.
- Move the eggplant strips to a colander and lightly rinse. You want to remove some of the excess salt as it’s about twice as much as is needed for the ferment. Squeeze the eggplant to remove the bitter liquid and pack the eggplant strips into the jar.
- Pour enough fresh water into the jar to completely submerge the eggplant. Use a weight to keep the eggplant below the brine. Leave at least 2 cm (1-inch) of headspace for bubbling. Cap the jar with a lid that will allow gas to escape. Place it in a dark cupboard for 3 to 7 days to ferment. Store in the fridge to stop the fermentation, and enjoy within 2 months.
To finish the pickles with oil
- Eggplant pickles finished in oil will last in the fridge for up to 6 months.
- Drain the fermented eggplant in a colander. Remove the garlic, and press the eggplant with a dinner plate topped by weight (see notes). Leave them to press for 2 to 3 hours. The goal is to press out all the liquid.
- Once the eggplants are drained, move them to a bowl and toss with 1/2 cup of oil. Start with a clean 1-quart jar. Drizzle a little oil on the bottom of the jar and pack in the eggplant as tightly as possible. Top with another 1/4 cup of oil. Cap with a lid and let it sit for a few hours. The oil will slowly seep into the eggplant, so check if you need to add more oil, the cap with a tight lid, and store it in the fridge.
- Alternatively, just remove some of the eggplant strips from the brine, and pack in a smaller amount of oil. Then once that eggplant is eaten, add more eggplant strips to the oil. The oil may end up with a bit of brine in it (since the brine isn’t being pressed out of the eggplant). However, it won’t affect the flavor of the eggplant pickles.
- The large Italian eggplant is the most common variety found at my farmers’ market. It’s fine to use, just try to buy thinner ones as you want to avoid the large seeds that come with the rounder eggplants.
- Feel free to use whatever you have available in your kitchen to press the liquid out of the eggplant for storing in oil. I used a dinner plate topped by a capped container full of water, but it really doesn’t matter. Use tin cans or cast iron cookware. Because you’re pressing over a colander, the weight won’t ever touch any liquid.