Eggplant is a unique vegetable in almost every respect. No other plant produces a fruit just this color; a royal purple. For this reason, eggplant is known as the royal vegetable in India. Eggplant is remarkable in that it has very little nutritional value except that it has some fiber. Its texture and subtle flavors make it great. The texture can be manipulated a bit. With certain kinds of frying it can remain slightly stiff but tender. When baked in the skin it becomes almost liquid. Each behavior has its place. The strongest flavor an eggplant can have is bitter. But really fresh eggplants that have been treated well will not be very bitter. The more subtle flavors are suggestive of nuts.
The classical presentation of eggplant is eggplant parmegian. Eggplant slices are dipped in flour, egg, breading, then fried lightly, then cooked in tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. By the time the eggplant has soaked up all these flavors it has become merely a vehicle, a substrate, a sticking surface to attract good flavors. And this is alright by me. I love this dish. And the things that go into it make it nutritionally robust, if calorically dense.
In Chinese restaurants eggplant is served with garlic sauce. This is a Japanese eggplant which is much smaller around, but the flavor and texture are pretty much the same. The eggplant becomes the vehicle for the sauce.
A favorite middle eastern food is baba ghanoush. It starts with baking a whole eggplant until it collapses, scooping out the insides, and compbining them with some combination of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, tahini, and mashed chick peas. Classically, it is eaten with flat bread.
Mousakka is another favorite eggplant recipe that involves ground beef or lamb, and tons of Bechamel sauce. Don't forget to add the dash of cinnamon. Bizarre as it may seem to the western palate, the cinnamon almost singlehandedly makes the dish.
There's not much to remember when buying eggplant except that fresher eggplants tend to have smoother skins. The skins wrinkle as the fruit dehydrates. Fresher eggplants are less bitter. Some recipes advocate salting the eggplant for 20 minutes, then wiping off the accumulated moisture as a way of eliminating bitterness. Other sources argue that all this does is salt the eggplant which makes one notice bitterness less. If my eggplant is completely fresh, I don't salt.