In Currabinny, neither the little garden or the greenhouse have ever yielded much in the way of aubergine. We have tried a couple of times. A spell of hot weather will sometimes give a modest sized fruit but all in all, it tends to be pretty futile.
Aubergine originates in India and China and was brought to the Mediterranean by the Arabs, its preferred growing climate is therefore one with long warm/hot summers. Unfortunately Currabinny does not match that criteria.
As children, neither of us particularly enjoyed aubergine. Perhaps back in those days we didn’t fully appreciate how to make the most of the fruits which are 90% water. Our memories are of something slippery, even soggy, cooked in some sort of a bake.
They are difficult to get right, their flesh needs to be seasoned, soaked in oil, softened with heat and time. When cooked in the right way they offer something no other vegetable can match. Flesh which is so soft and tender, silky and smokey all at once.
Aubergines becomes even more seductive with spice, garlic, ginger, sweet syrups like honey and fruit — both dried and fresh. The flavours may be subtle and certainly needs to be seasoned and spiced but so much that is wonderful about this vegetable is in its texture.
There are so many different varieties of aubergine and we only ever really see one or two types. In Asian stores you might come across the smaller, more oblong Chinese varieties and if you are very lucky something even more rare like Turkish orange ones or large white Indian ones, like ostrich eggs which gave the inspiration for the American name eggplant.
Hopefully more varieties will start to appear in markets, like we have seen with courgettes and tomatoes. For these recipes we shall focus on using the one most commonly used here, the black beauty which is deepest purple, almost black and very shiny.
This variety is delicious and reliable so its lucky we have them so abundantly, even if they are rarely grown here.
Aubergine caviar is sort of a smooth baba ganoush which is a little lighter and easier to make. It is easy to whip up for a shared lunch, picnic, or dinner party and keeps well in the fridge. We like to serve it with warm pitta breads but it can also be stirred into curries or tagines to give them a smoky edge.
This recipe will give you a pretty modest amount but it can easily be scaled up for group eating. This is all about celebrating the wonderful texture you get from aubergine, which you can’t really replicate with any other ingredient, being at once decadent and light, delicately flavoured, yet with a smoky undertone.
For something which has such a subtle flavour, aubergine can take a huge amount of strong seasoning and still remain unmistakably aubergine.
2 medium aubergines
Extra virgin olive oil (roughly 2 tbsp)
2 cloves of garlic
2 tsp of balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp of fresh chopped basil
1 tbsp of fresh chopped parsley
Juice of ½ a lemon
Sea salt & black pepper
½ tsp of red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius. Cut both aubergines in half lengthways and place them cut side down on a lined baking sheet. Drizzle with a good amount of olive oil and make sure the flesh is saturated with it. Season well with salt and pepper.
Bake the aubergine for roughly 30 minutes until the flesh is thoroughly cooked. Remove from the oven and scoop the flesh out into a bowl. Mash the flesh with a fork and transfer to a food processor along with the garlic, lemon juice, and salt. Blitz for a second and then add the herbs before blitzing properly, drizzling the oil in until very smooth.
Taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice, oil, pepper flakes, or salt as desired. Spoon into a nice bowl and drizzle some more olive oil on top, garnishing with basil.
This is a really easy salad consisting of grilled aubergine, dressed simply with lemon juice, oil and honey. Grilling sliced aubergine is the quickest way to get the desired results, which should always involve getting the flesh as tender as possible without it turning to mush.
The actual seasoning is minimal here because the other components will give you the punch. Just a little sea salt, black pepper and good olive oil, soaked into the flesh will bring out everything you need.
Be careful to turn the slices at the right moment, you don’t want the flesh to turn black or to fall apart, you are looking for a nice golden, brown surface on each side.
2 medium aubergines, sliced into 1-inch rounds.
1 tsp of red pepper flakes
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp of pomegranate seeds
Juice of ½ lemon
Handful of mint, chopped
Handful of walnuts
3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil plus more for cooking
1 tbsp of honey
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and arrange the walnuts on it. Toast the walnuts in the oven for around eight minutes until golden and fragrant.
Whisk together the lemon juice, red onion, oil, chopped mint, red pepper flakes and some salt and pepper to make a super quick dressing. In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil over a medium high heat.
Add the aubergine slices, season with salt and pepper and cook each side until golden brown and starting to caramelise slightly. This should take around eight to 10 minutes.
Transfer the aubergine slices to a plate or platter and add the walnuts and pomegranate on top. drizzle generously with the dressing and finally the tablespoon of honey all over.
Garnish with fresh mint leaves and serve.
This dish is quite simply intoxicating and is up there with our favourite meals ever. The way the spiced stuffing penetrates the soft flesh, infusing it, turning the colour turmeric yellow, is a joyous example of how a simple technique can yield results which seem to be completely transformative.
You start with a regular aubergine and with very little effort you get a deeply delicious, heavy, creamy, unctuous feast with its own sauce, all in one pan, as if by magic.
2 large aubergine
Thumb of ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp of cumin
½ tsp of turmeric
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tbsp of pomegranate seeds to garnish
For the yogurt dressing:
250ml of greek yoghurt
½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
Good pinch of salt
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
To prepare the aubergine, cut them lengthways in an ‘x’ shape from the top to the base but not all the way through. The idea is that you have four quarters you can open apart to get the filling inside and then close back up again. This won’t be neat or clean, the filling will spill out a little and that’s perfectly fine.
In a small bowl, mix together the ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric, two tablespoons of oil and smoked paprika. Season the insides of the aubergine with salt and pepper and fill with the stuffing. The idea is that as much flesh as possible gets in contact with the filling.
Heat three tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Place the aubergines in the hot oil and cook, turning occasionally until the skin is brown and getting crisp all over. The aubergines should start to get soft and sag a little, this is normal and some of the filling will seep out into the oil.
At this stage, reduce the heat to medium low and add 100ml of water. Cook for a further 15 minutes, turning the eggplants in the liquid which should reduce down a little into a fragrant sauce. Place the aubergines on a plate and spoon over the cooking liquid.
Add a good dollop of the seasoned yoghurt dressing on top and garnish with some pomegranate seeds.