Currabinny Cooks: Sticky Chinese aubergine that's perfect for a midweek vegetarian dinner

This unlikely fruit is incredibly versatile and aubergines hold up well to most types of cooking such as baking, grilling, frying and even steaming
Currabinny Cooks: Sticky Chinese aubergine that's perfect for a midweek vegetarian dinner

Aubergines are berries and a close relative to the deadly nightshade. This unlikely fruit is incredibly versatile, being at home in a huge diversity of cuisines from Japan, China, The Middle East and the Mediterranean. The large, deep purple, bulbous variants are of course the most common, but aubergines do come in an incredible range of sizes, shapes and colours. Aubergines hold up well to most types of cooking such as baking, grilling, frying and even steaming.

When buying aubergine, choose fruits that are heavy for their size, firm to touch and avoid any with soft or brown spots or patches. Aubergines do not store very well so buy them just before you are going to use them. Keep them in a cool dry place but definitely not in the fridge.

Our journey with aubergine has been a slow, gradual one. Neither of us grew up with any fondness for it. Somewhere along the way, we both sort of reluctantly starting eating aubergine and then a little while later cooking with it. It was this final part of the journey, exploring all the different ways of using aubergine in the kitchen, which turned us into complete aubergine lovers.

The exact flavour of aubergine is actually quite hard to pin-point and any attempt might lead to descriptions which sound unappetising. In our minds it is relatively mild and has a rich almost creamy flavour. There is a lot of talk about salting aubergine flesh to take away the bitterness, but we think this a relatively unnecessary step unless you have a particularly old aubergine. Fresh aubergine shouldn’t be too bitter. There is something almost like mushroom to the aubergine that can often throw the uninitiated off but it might just be the creaminess. Aubergine takes on seasoning very well, especially oil which is will soak up like a sponge. We like to use either a mild oil or a good quality extra virgin with aubergine.

Sticky Chinese Aubergine 

This deeply flavourful, sticky, garlicky, spicy dish is perfect for a midweek vegetarian dinner.

Any good Asian food store will have Chinese cooking wine, often called ‘shaoxing jiu’ and also Chinese black vinegar which is known as ‘chinkiang’. If you cannot find these, do not worry, dry sherry and balsamic vinegar are good substitutes. This might seem like an excessive amount of garlic but trust me it all works as the flavours of the soy sauce, chilli flakes and ginger will balance out the garlic.

Ingredients:

  • 60ml of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of Chinese black vinegar (or balsamic) 
  • 2 tablespoons of Chinese cooking wine (or dry sherry) 
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes
  • Pinch of sea salt 
  • 2 large aubergine 
  • Vegetable oil 
  • 10 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced 
  • Thumb of ginger, peeled and minced 
  • Sesame oil 
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced 
  • Sticky rice to serve 

Method:

Cut the aubergine in half lengthways. Then cut into either wedges or batons around half the length of a finger.

Make the sauce by mixing together in a bowl, the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, cooking wine, chilli flakes and sea salt in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.

Steam the aubergine for around 8-10 minutes using either a bamboo steamer over a wok of boiling water or in a standard steamer over a pot. The aubergine should be tender all the way through but not falling apart. You may need to do this in batches. Transfer the steamed aubergine to a plate.

Place the wok on a medium high heat with a little vegetable oil and add the garlic and ginger. Fry for a few seconds in the hot oil before adding the steamed aubergine. Fry for another 20-30 seconds before pouring in the sauce. Cook for around 5-6 minutes until the sauce thickens around the aubergine. Remove from the heat and drizzle with a little sesame oil and sprinkle the sliced sporing onions over. Serve with sticky rice.

Aubergine & Halloumi Pitta 

We made a couple of these recently for a picnic and they went down a treat. You can easily make them vegan by omitting the halloumi and they will still be very delicious. These pitta pockets are great for a picnic, a lunchbox or just as a quick lunch on the go.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large aubergine, cut into thin slices 
  • Olive oil 
  • 250g halloumi, cut into ½ inch slices 
  • 4 white pittas, warmed or lightly toasted 
  • Hot chilli sauce like sriracha 
  • Sea salt and black pepper 

For the green tahini:

  • 100ml tahini 
  • Juice of 1 lemon 
  • Big handful of parsley 
  • Big handful of mint 
  • Big handful of basil 

For the salad:

  • 2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped into small cubes 
  • Half a cucumber, deseeded and cut into small cubes 
  • Bunch of spring onion, finely sliced 
  • Juice of ½ lemon 
  • Pinch of sea salt 

Method:

First make the salad by mixing together the chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and sliced spring onion in a medium sized bowl. Squeeze over the juice from half a lemon and a pinch of sea salt. Mix around a little and then leave aside.

Next make the green tahini. In a food processor, blitz all the ingredients together along with 6 tablespoons of water until you have a runny, smooth, lightly green sauce. Taste for seasoning and add a pinch of salt or a little more lemon juice if needed.

Place the slices of aubergine in a large mixing bowl along with a good slog of olive oil and a healthy pinch of sea salt. Mix around until each of the slices has soaked up a little of the olive oil.

Heat a griddle pan or frying pan over a medium high heat and fry the aubergine slices, each side for 2-3 minutes until really tender and slightly charred. You might need to do this in batches. Fry the halloumi in a similar way with a little olive oil on your griddle or frying pan, 2-3 minutes each side so that you have nice golden crispy halloumi.

Warm the pittas or lightly toast them. Cut an opening in them so you have a pocket and stuff them with a few slices of aubergine and halloumi. Add a spoon or two of the cucumber and tomato salad and drizzle generously with the green tahini sauce and lastly add a few splashes of hot sauce.

Deep Fried Aubergine 

This is a simple little recipe for aubergine in a light batter and shallow fried in oil. You can eat them with any kind of dip, aioli or sauce that you like but we like them just as they are with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium aubergine, cut into thin slices 
  • 140g plain flour 
  • 300ml white wine 
  • Vegetable oil 
  • Sea salt and black pepper 
  • 1 lemon cut into wedges 

Method:

Place the sieved flour into a medium mixing bowl along with a good pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Whisk the white wine and flour together until you get a light batter.

Use a wok and pour in enough oil so that you have a depth of about two inches. Heat the oil on a medium high heat. Dip a slice of aubergine in the batter and then drop into the hot oil.

It should immediately start to sizzle and change colour. Cook the aubergine in batches, being mindful not to overcrowd the wok. The fried aubergine should be cooked until deep golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. When all the aubergine has been fried, serve with lemon wedges and sea salt.

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