The eggplant is one of the most distinctive vegetables in the supermarket. Its dramatic glossy skin, black bordering on purple, and the mild flavor of the flesh makes it a versatile addition to many dishes. Although its flavor and color can’t be matched by other vegetables, substitutes can generally be used.
Commonly available year-round in supermarkets, zucchini serves as an adequate replacement for eggplant in many dishes. Slices cut on the bias from a mid-sized zucchini can be breaded and prepared like eggplant Parmesan or layered into a moussaka. Whole zucchini can also be stuffed and baked in the same manner as eggplant. Zucchini are less flavorful than eggplant, so a dish’s seasoning may need adjustment. They are also more fibrous and contain more liquid, so they do not cook to the same texture as the eggplant.
Other Summer Squashes
Although zucchini are the most readily available, most other summer squashes work just as well as a substitute for eggplant. Yellow zucchini and yellow crookneck, available during the summer peak season, and more exotic squashes can be had from farmer’s markets and upscale groceries. Varieties with soft skins can be cooked in slices or baked whole, while those with hard skins can be stuffed and baked, or roasted and then processed into a tasty dip such as baba ghanouj.
Cucuzzi, edible gourds distantly related to the squashes and pumpkins, grow up to three feet long, though they taste best picked at 12 inches. The tough green skin must be peeled from a cucuzzi before it can be eaten. The gourd flesh can be sliced, fried, baked, steamed or otherwise cooked exactly like an eggplant or summer squash. As a substitute for eggplant in most dishes, cucuzzi tastes better and has a better texture than zucchini.
Substituting a mushroom for eggplant is not as intuitive as using squash, which have similar textures and mild flavors, but it does make an interesting variation. Many eggplant recipes use thick slices of the vegetable in the sort of savory role that would normally be filled by a meat-based entree. Caps of portobello mushrooms fill the same niche quite admirably, and can often be utilized in recipes that would normally call for grilled or fried eggplant.
References and Resources"On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen"; Harold S. McGee; 2004
What's Cooking America; Eggplant (Aubergine); Linda Stradley
Gourmet Sleuth: Eggplant
The Gardener's Rake: Creative Gardening -- Edible Gourds and Gourd Trivia