Market Report: Barbuto and Bestia alum treats eggplant to an Asian twist

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The Chinese and Japanese varieties of eggplant have a slender appearance as opposed to their Italian counterpart. Photo by Gillian Ferguson/KCRW

Eggplants are showing up in all shapes and sizes at the farmer's market. Chef Melissa Lopez has spent time in the kitchens of Babuto in New York and Bestia in DTLA's Arts District. At Shins Pizza, a new slice shop in Cypress Park, she is fusing Asian flavors onto pizza. One of Lopez's favorite dishes on the menu is a Japanese eggplant with sweet summer red peppers, hazelnuts, and a garlic sauce made with Fresno chiles. The Japanese variety of the eggplant is smaller and easier to use, and it holds its shape. With a tender skin, it doesn't need much preparation, and Lopez cooks the dish to order. 

John Her of Her Produce in Fresno has a Chinese variety and bell eggplant at his market stand this week. How do you tell the varieties apart? A Japanese eggplant is a dark color with the same color calyx (the small cluster of leaves at the top). The Chinese eggplant is purple, while the Italian variety is black with a green calyx. Chinese and Japanese are longer in shape, while the Italian vegetable is more bulbous. Three or four eggplants grow on each branch of the plant and Her grows a thousand plants of each variety. Her's family is Hmong. His favorite way to cook the vegetable at home is a quick saute or charred with a paste of Thai chile, fish sauce, cilantro, and green onion. Stay tuned for broccoli, jicama, and sweet potatoes this fall.