Sunday, September 09, 2007


Savoury Aubergine "Jam"

I became a convert to aubergine (eggplant) many moons ago after I ate a deconstructed vegetarian lasagne at the now-defunct Skoozi on Victoria Road in Devonport. I have no idea what has happened to the head chef or the proprietor of this great establishment, but my love for aubergine has only grown.

Some people I know cannot stand it, finding the skin rubbery and the flesh strangely spongy. But perhaps they just haven't chosen the right ones at the market or grocery store. There are many varieties: some white, others deep, dark purple; some long and slender, and others with the curves of an hour-glass. Despite the variety, selecting aubergine isn't brain science, so there is no reason to not enjoy this delectable member of the solanaceae family (along with tomatillo, tomato, and gooseberry, to name a few). Look for aubergines with firm, unyielding skin that is shiny. In terms of colouring, ensure that there is no green (unless, of course, they are a variety in which the colour green is part of its make-up, such as ball-shaped Thai eggplant); they should be uniform in colour or pattern (the zébrine variety is zebra-striped white and violet) from the stem to the blossom end. If you pick aubergines that are 6-8oz in weight, you will not have to slice and salt them to extract the bitterness, for they contain fewer seeds.

Aubergine is incredibly flexible. It is just at home as part of a mezze as it is in a main dish, and it is also a highlight of both hot and cold dishes. Native to India, aubergine is a key ingredient of dishes all over the subcontinent as well as Asia and along the coasts of the Mediterranean. One of my favourite preparations of Japanese aubergine is what my angelheart Eric's mother calls Eggplant with Basil, in which half-moon shapped slices of eggplant are first lightly sautéed and then cooked off with garlic in a bath of soy sauce. I am also partial to Mediterranean preparations: the Sicilian Caponata, a sweet and sour relish; Baba Ghanouj, a Lebanese dip of aubergine and tahini; and Patlicanli Pilav, a sweet, sexy Turkish pilaf in which aubergine is baked before being combined with sauteed onions, pine nuts, and rice into which is tossed currants, cinnamon and allspice.

Not quite an aubergine caviar, for this recipe does not require one make a purée, but it is a soft spread that one can smear over toasted bread. If you choose an aubergine that is larger than 8oz, peel and slice the aubergine according to the following recipe, and then salt it generously and allow to sit in a colander for an hour. After said time has elapsed, rinse the slices of aubergine and dry thorougly. This will ensure extraction of bitterness. The dish can be served warm or at room temperature.

Savoury Aubergine "Jam"
(Adapted from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets)

1 pound aubergine
sea salt
pepper, freshly ground
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 chile de arból, dried, seeds removed, and thinly sliced
1/2-1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon star anise powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander/cilantro
2 tablespoons coriander/cilantro, finely chopped
juice of 1/2 small lemon

1) Peel wide ribbons of the aubergine skin, then slice into 1cm/1/2" rounds.
2) Heat olive oil in a large sautée pan.
3) Over medium-high heat, add aubergine slices and brown on both sides - approximately 15 minutes.
4) Add garlic and chile de arból and let it meld with the aubergine for one minute.
5) Turn heat down to medium and add 1/2 cup water, star anise powder and ground coriander. Mash the aubergine with the tines of a fork until broken into a jam-like consistency. Add more water to help break it down. If there is too much water left once consistency is reached, turn up the heat to evaporate it quickly.
6) Stir in the chopped cilantro and lemon juice before serving.

This is a smoky spread, augmented by the toasted bread of one's choice. I love the crunchy texture of the bread juxtaposed by the soft aubergine jam. The spices and fresh coriander and lemon provide overall balance and interest. For me, this makes a great addition to mezze, but, on its own, this is light and healthy late-Summer lunch.

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You are reading my mind here, Shaun. Eggplants is the subject of my upcoming column :) and today the latter half of today preparing 3 eggplant dishes. I'm one of those people that's not a big fan of this veg and there are only certain ways I can have it.
Same here :) I had dinner with some Russian friends in Edinburgh on Thursday night, and asked the host to make her very delicious aubergine 'caviar'. She did, and it was as delicious as ever:) I even smuggled in a kilogram of those tiny cute aubergines on the way back, as I can only buy large ones here in Estonia:)
I love aubergine and hubby hates it, well maybe a strong dislike.

This sounds great though, must be packed full of flavour, and a good addition to a meze table, yum!
I love eggplants. i will definitely be trying this, especially when it starts to get warmer. My mind is in summer mode already :-)
Cynthia - At least you try different ways to eat aubergine. I know some who resolve never to try it again. I will read your article with interest.

Pille - There are so many variations to Aubergine caviar, but in almost any fashion it makes for a perfect mezze. With the large Estonian aubergines, just peel off the skin and slice and salt pieces of eggplant before rinsing, drying and cooking - then you shouldn't have any concerns regarding bitterness.

Kelly-Jane - I know...My angelheart Eric isn't terribly fond of it either, but he is coming around. He likes a spicy Thai version with basil as well as the way his mother makes it. He also doesn't mind it roasted and mixed with vegetables prepared the same way.

Nora B. - For me, aubergines are the best food in the late Summer. I will be lucky to have two seasons of them in one year, for I will be in New Zealand for the Summer (and for how long after that, who knows?). I hope you give this a shot.
Hi Shaun,

Just replying to your comment about Feast on my most recent post. :) Feast is one of my favourite Nigella books, and when it was released I cooked obsessively from it for quite a long time, have made 120+ recipes from it, which for me is a lot from any one book!

There are not many on my blog as most of this was before I started blogging, but I'm sure I'll do more from Feast again in the future!

Kelly-Jane - Sorry for misunderstanding your post. I just got the impression you weren't a fan of it. Thanks for explaining why you were tired of it - I would be, too, if I cooked 120+ recipes from it!!
Kelly-Jane is my hero. I am in total awe that she can buy a cookbook and then cook from it. I buy cook books, look at the pictures, read a bit but hardly ever use them to cook from... I hadn't checked in for a while, what with holidays and everything. Some lovely posts while I've been absent. Love Nigella's figs, left a comment on that post too.
Amanda - I, too, adore Kelly-Jane's enthusiasm and good taste. I am so glad that you could stop by again now that there is a break in the weather (and before the next batch of holidays, the end of year ones!).
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