Saturday, 8 July 2017

Purple Prince of vegetables: aubergine ideas and recipes

The key to a good diet is variety - of taste, flavour, texture, cooking method and colour. All dark food contains anthocyanins: research indicates these are anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory, good for eyesight and the immune system. Purple food, from lilac potatoes and broccoli to claret-hued carrots (their original colour), Brussels sprouts, blueberries, grapes and red cabbage, is part of this healthy range. My favourite purple food is aubergine or, as the yanks call it, eggplant, as early versions were small, cream coloured and egg-shaped. 

Aubergines used to be quite bitter and required salting to alleviate their unpleasant taste, but modern cultivars no longer need to be degorged. Salt also helps prevent the vegetable from soaking up too much oil when fried. As an occasional treat, fried aubergines are heavenly; soft melting insides contrasting with crispy violet skin. This is one of the few dishes that my part-Italian dad cooks: he calls it ‘moulinyan', Neapolitan dialect for aubergine, half-remembered from his childhood. 

A versatile vegetable, you can grill, fry, bake or BBQ it. Roasted and pureed, it will make - with the addition of garlic, olive oil and tahini - the classic Middle Eastern dip baba ghanoush. In Sicily, they add fried aubergine to peppers and tomatoes to make the sauce for pasta alla norma. I only occasionally cook the Italian Eggplant Parmesan Melanzana Parmigiana as it takes so long: hours of frying, layering and saucing to make a rich baked dish, even better the day after. Aubergine is often used to replace meat. 
Another method I use to cook aubergine is to slice it thinly on a mandoline, then lay the strips on a baking pan with a thin layer of olive oil. Season and roast/bake on a high heat (200c) for 5 or 6 minutes. This produces 'aubergine crackling': soft tongues of mousse with crunchy salty violet rind.

Here are three delicious aubergine recipes from Spain, Georgia and India respectively.

Aubergine fries (berenjenas a la cordobesa)

aubergine fries
aubergine fries
Aubergine fries (berenjenas a la cordobesa)

Serves 2-4

2 large shiny aubergines, cut into chips
150ml whole milk
100g polenta
1tsp sea salt
1/2tsp white pepper, ground
100ml olive oil
3 large tbsp honey

Prepare two bowls, one with the milk, the other with polenta. Mix the polenta with salt and pepper.
Place a wide deep frying pan on a high heat, and add the olive oil.
Dip the aubergine chips first in the milk, then the polenta. Set aside until you have enough to cover the bottom of the frying pan in one layer. Fry in batches until golden.
Drizzle the honey over the aubergine fries.

Georgian rolls (Nigvziani Badrijani)

Georgian rolls (Nigvziani Badrijani)

This is good as a starter or canapés, or as part of a meze. Take time to slice the aubergines; it’s easiest if you have an adjustable mandolin.

2 red peppers

4 cloves garlic, in their skins
2 large aubergines, sliced lengthways, 1/2 cm wide.

50ml olive oil
50g walnuts, toasted if you wish
4tbsp breadcrumbs
Handful of coriander leaves
1/2tsp paprika, sweet
A pinch of cumin, ground
1tsp sea salt
2tbsp pomegranate molasses
A bunch of spring onion stems (optional)
Pomegranate seeds

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Put the peppers and garlic cloves on a top shelf and cook until blistered. Remove from oven, remove skins, stems and seeds from the peppers and skins from the garlic. 
Brush the aubergine slices with olive oil.
Grill or shallow fry until both sides are slightly blackened. 
Using a blender, blend the peppers, garlic, walnuts, breadcrumbs, coriander, salt, paprika and cumin together. Add the pomegranate molasses. Adjust seasoning.
Using a tablespoon, scoop some of the mixture into the aubergine slices and roll up. 
Optional you can use a spring onion green stem to tie up the rolls.
Scatter with pomegranate seeds.

Indian Brinjal curry

Indian Brinjal curry

The trick with making a good curry is to use a combination of whole and ground spices that are fresh. I frequently use mini aubergines as they cook more rapidly and look pretty.

Serves 4 to 6

12-15 mini aubergines
75ml vegetable oil or ghee
1tsp mustard seeds
1/2tsp turmeric powder
4-5 cardamom pods, black or green
A pinch of ground nutmeg
1 stick cinnamon
1 star anise
1/2tsp cumin, whole
1tsp coriander seeds, whole
1/2tsp cumin, ground
1 brown onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb fresh ginger, grated
6 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 dried kashmiri chillies, ground
1tbsp sea salt
Handful of roughly chopped coriander leaves

Slit the mini aubergines lengthways into quarters, but don't cut down to the bottom, leave the stem. 
Using a wide deep frying pan, heat the cooking oil and put it the mustard seeds. Let them pop. 
Add the aubergines. 
One by one, add the spices, the onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and chillies. Salt to taste. 
Cook until the aubergines are soft on the inside, then scatter with coriander leaves.
Serve with naan or rice.

My next supper club is with Professor Tim Spector, author of 'The Diet Myth':


  1. Wow, aubergine fries with honey sounds like a real treat - looking forward to giving that one a try. Some great recipes for a hardy little vegetable and some classic out of the box thinking to boot! Great post.

  2. I don't know why but your blog always brings back good Ramadan memories for me. Sister #2 used to slice the regular aubergines into discs, dip them into pakora batter and deep fry them. I could eat a whole pile in one sitting.

  3. Like the soind of aubergine fries. Will try your recipe.

  4. Love your recipes and your vegan book

  5. Thanks for sharing, some lovely ones to try!
    I like to use corn tortillas and make veggie burritos. You can make med veg burritos using aubergine, courgettes, and peppers


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