The humble aubergine’s polished black skin and curvy belly is worth heaps more respect than the nudge-nudge wink-wink emoji we all chortle at. When I was younger, it wasn’t on the British culinary radar much, but with the growing fashion for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours, its popularity has soared in the last decade. Once considered the poor man’s meat, it can now be spotted on menus everywhere, even in fine diners, and this is testament to its new place in our cooking. What’s more, the aubergine’s creamy fleshy texture and versatility makes it the perfect meat-free centrepiece for a vegetarian meal.
But before we commence on an aubergine odyssey, let’s quickly marvel over its botanical credentials. You’d be surprised to know it’s a fruit, a berry of all things, from the Nightshade family. Another nerdy fact I love, is that it’s a distant cousin to tomatoes and potatoes. With the geekery bit over, here are six stellar dishes I love.
Fatteh, the flavour-packed salad from the Levantine, is unarguably nutritious and a cinch to make - so much so, in fact, it’s become a staple in our house. Every household and restaurant makes their fatteh differently as I learnt on a recent trip to Palestine but this is my loose interpretation.
Stir finely chopped aubergine in a pan with cumin, coriander seeds, a pinch of ground cinnamon and a garlic clove. Season and add olive oil as well as lamb or beef mince. Pour in a little water or stock if the pan is drying out. Meanwhile, mix tahini with some yoghurt and garlic. Include mint if you’ve some at hand. To assemble, plate up some shredded toasted pita (or I relish using leftover bread – just chop it up), pour over the aubergine mix, stir a little and then drizzle the creamy yoghurt. Serve with toasted pine nuts and chopped mint.
2. A Quick Dip
Aubergine comes into its own roasted over flames, and this is a super quick dip which makes the most of those flavours. Be warned, the aubergine can weep over the hob and make a bit of a mess - place tinfoil around it if you don’t want to sponge up juices. Other than that it just requires a fork and a teatowel.
Spike your aubergine all over. Then, using a fork, hold it over a gas flame until the skin is crispy and flaky all over. Bake for a bit longer in the oven if the flesh is still firm. When cooked and cool, remove the skin. Add some garlic, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and seasoning. Mash with a fork or whizz in a blender but retain some texture. You can also sprinkle coriander, thyme or smoked paprika over it or stir in some harissa paste for a fiery punch.
3. Killer Tacos
I adore using aubergine as a meat substitute in tacos. Make a quick salsa by mixing finely chopped tomatoes, onions, chillies and salt with a squeeze of lime - you could include finely grated lime zest too. Bake your aubergine with cumin, salt and olive oil. Divide the mix into the taco shells, add some chopped avocado and a spoonful of the salsa. Finely grate some lime zest on top and garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Oh joy.
4. Super Stackers
Stacking aubergines is fun and creates instant heavenly meals. Make sure you refine your panoply of spices and veg so they match each other. Firstly, slice large aubergines into rounds. Splash some olive oil and add a spice or two - I’d suggest cumin, coriander, paprika, chilli, cinnamon and fennel seeds as happy partners. Roast the rounds at 180C for 15-20 minutes until they are soft and fleshy. Place the rounds on a plate and top with crumbled feta, dry-fried halloumi or fresh mozzarella slices. Add some chopped olives and finish with a dainty drizzle of pomegranate molasses or balsamic vinegar. For a vegan spin, pile with a teaspoon of mango chutney, cumin, tomatoes and a little garlic or finely chopped shallot. You could also roast red pepper chunks alongside the aubergine and stack them on top. These also taste great with toasted sesame seeds or zaatar sprinkled over too.
5. Aubergine In Honey
Again, bake your aubergine wedges until soft and fleshy. This time whisk up a creamy sauce of spicy mustard and honey. Arrange the slices and season them. Pour over the dressing and scatter some nuts and herbs. You can pep them up further with figs and feta.
6. Aubergine & Chocolate Brownie
If you’re looking for a salubrious cake option, aubergine is your companion. When you’ve cooked the aubergine, scoop out the flesh and mash. Add butter and beaten egg. Melt dark chocolate over a hob and include in the mixture. Then pour in a bag of ground almonds and beat together. Now add a pinch of salt and baking powder, and then pour the batter into a greased tin and bake.
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