Eggplant can certainly be flavorful if prepared correctly, but its flavor is most enjoyable when accompanied by the right seasonings. As with most savory vegetables, you will find that some seasonings work better than others. Here is a look at some of the best eggplant spices.
Parmesan cheese is a type of cheese for which the Parma region in Italy is best known. It shows up in several eggplant dishes, including the classic moussaka. It is known for its ability to enhance umami notes due to its high glutamate content along with its strong cheesy tang and richness.
One of the most popular members of the mint family, basil, shows up in a lot of tomato-based dishes, including eggplant parmigiana. The licorice and citrus notes from fresh basil go well with tomato sauces and other spices that you might see in a parmigiana, all of which will liven and enrichen the flavor and mouthfeel of eggplant. You will also see fresh basil in ratatouille.
Not every eggplant dish contains garlic, but it dramatically enhances the ones that do. Garlic is one of the world’s most popular Alliums and is known for its earthiness and pungency as well as for its ability to enhance umami notes in a vast range of dishes.
Garlic is one of the key ingredients in one of the most beloved eggplant dishes: baba ganoush, a Lebanese eggplant spread/dip similar to hummus. It is also an important ingredient in ratatouille’s flavor profile.
While it is not often seen in savory dishes in the US and Northern Europe, nutmeg is a key ingredient in moussaka. This South Indian spice offers a strong nuttiness accompanied by a fragrant sweetness that gives the Greek eggplant casserole its distinctive set of flavors and aromas.
Arguably the best-known and most widely enjoyed member of the allium family, onions come in many different forms and show up in a large number of savory dishes around the world. Onions are an incredibly popular seasoning for meat dishes. Moussaka is one of the dishes that include both eggplant and meat. The umami properties of onions intensify its meatiness.
Another one of the spices not always associated with savory foods, cinnamon does make a showing in some moussaka recipes due to that dish’s reliance on sweet and fragrant spices. It not only does an excellent job of complementing the gaminess of lamb (which is the meat of choice in the most authentic Greek moussaka recipes), but it also pairs nicely with the eggplant.
While it is not technically a spice, it is as important to the flavor profiles of many eggplant dishes as any other seasoning here. Since many of the most popular eggplant dishes are baked rather than fried, smoke point won’t be an issue in most cases, so extra virgin olive oil — the most flavorful olive oil — will be your best bet.
Extra virgin olive oil enhances eggplant dishes with strong grassy notes with hints of pepper. You will see it used in eggplant parmigiana, baba ganoush, and ratatouille.
Made from ground sesame seeds, tahini enhances the mouthfeel of baba ganoush in addition to perfectly complementing the flavor of eggplant. It also pairs well with other important ingredients like olive oil and garlic.