Monday, December 31, 2007


Aubergine with Mint

One can always tell when it's Summer at my place - wherever it may be - because it is the time of year that I go mad for aubergines (eggplants) and plums. Their gorgeous purple skins sing to me, as do their plump bodies. Neither requires that much work to cook, but both react very differently to heat. Plums become juicier and more intense, whereas aubergines develop a smokiness. Earlier this year I escaped the chilly and tempestuous New Zealand Winter and spent Summer in the US, where I made a gorgeous Savoury Aubergine "Jam". It was perfect to have on toast, a light and flavourful lunch. Like many during Summer, my diet tends to be comprised of goodies that are quickly cooked - if cooking is at all necessary - because the oven's heat sends me overboard during times of heat and humidity.

Over time, I have come to really appreciate the flexibility of the aubergine. Its mallowy texture can take on many heavy sauces and dressings, whether they be of a base that is soy, sesame or olive oil, and they pair so well with the best of the hardy and hearty herbs: mint and oregano. Mint is too often maligned amongst my friends due to many a bad roast lamb served with overpowering mint sauce that has all too often come from a proprietor of ill-repute. With powerful dressings - especially those that contain garlic cloves instead of minced shallots - mint adds a coolness to the palate. There are myriad uses of this herb, and we only need to look to the Sicilians and Greeks for guidance and inspiration. I hope it makes its way into your salads this Summer as it is the herbal version of a tall glass of anything cold.

To prepare large aubergines, use a vegetable peeler to remove some of the skin in strips so that you are left with a zebra pattern; this is to remove some of the bitterness. To further extract bitterness, slice the aubergines in the desired manner, then layer in a colander with a dusting of salt. Put a small plate over the top layer and weight with a heavy item, such as a canned product from the pantry. After 30 mintues have elapsed, rinse the slices of aubergine and dry them thoroughly. Small aubergines should not necessitate this step before any cooking.

The following makes a great salad for one or two for lunch, or it can be incoporated as a side dish or into a mezze for four. I have very slightly adapted the ingredients to suit what I had at home. Original specifications are in parentheses.

Aubergine with Mint
(From Diana Henry's Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons)

2 aubergines (or 3, if medium-small)
olive oil
salt, pepper

For the dressing:
1 teaspoon vermouth (white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced (crushed)
1 teaspoon white sugar, superfine
50ml/2 fl. oz extra virgin olive oil
a handful of mint, torn

1) Cut tops and bottoms off the aubergines. You can slice them length-ways or across, as I did. Slices should measure approximately 1 cm/ 1/4".
2) Brush the aubergine slices with olive oil and season on both sides with salt and pepper.
3) You can either put a frying pan or griddle on until very hot, grill on both sides and then turn heat down to cook through. I find this quite laborious as I actually hate having to get out more than one pan when a dish has so few ingredients. So, I lay the slices on a baking tray covered in foil and grilled on both sides. Once grilled, move to middle rack and turn oven on to 180 C/375F until cooked through, approximately 5-6 minutes.
4) Whisk all the dressing together except for the mint.
5) Put aubergines on a serving platter and dress immediately so the aubergine can absorb the dressing. Drop in the torn mint leaves.
6) Leave to soak for a couple of hours and serve at room temperature.

Mint is a herb that is best added at the end of any dish in order to retain its zing, which rings through the smoky aubergine - a perfect match, satisfying in a way that leaves your stomach full and your palate pleased. The dressing is perfectly Sicilian, both sweet and sour. This was lunch for me, but that is because I'm a glutton for aubergine - I would have been happy to share it. Though not the prettiest salad in the world, it packs a punch without a lot of effort. All you need is a few simple ingredients...and, as you know by now, one should always have aubergine on hand over the Summer when it is at its most plentiful. A great way to enjoy the last sweltering afternoon of the year.

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Hi Shuan,
I love aubergine too. I thought they were available all year round in Australia. After reading your post, I asked my mom about the aubergines that she uses in Singapore because from my memory, she never had to salt them to remove the bitterness and I've never had a bitter aubergine before while living in Singapore. So apparently, they of a different variety - they are long and slender. Older aubergines still tastes the same (still not bitter) but are less tender in terms of texture. I have to go to the markets with her one of these mornings (although I am enjoying the sleep ins...) and "investigate" this further... to be continued... ;-)

oh and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! I hope that all your plans for this year will eventuate.

xx Nora
Given how ga-ga I am about baba ganoush, I can't wait to try this. Smokey, oily eggplant sparkling with cooling mint would make an excellent filling for a thick, buttery omelette.

You are spot-on, Shaun; mint is so much more than the unfortunate kelly green, cloying jelly in jars. Middle-Eastern cooks know this by heart.
Another way to use that wonderful gift from Mother Nature! I even have a glass ornament on my Christmas tree that is an aubergine! The dressing sounds lucious and with that added touch of mint, yum!
I had not heard of Diana Henry, and I loved the title of her book, so I checked her out on Amazon. I may just have to have that book just for the pictures and I like the way she is covering pretty much of the Mediterranean. Have you made many of her recipes?

A very "Happy New Year" to you Shaun!
Happy New Year to you! Hope 2008 is full of health, happiness & success!

Love from London!
Nora B. ~ Australia has a rather warmer climate than New Zealand, so it shouldn't surprise me if aubergines are grown year-round there. This is not a luxury we have in New Zealand, though. I'm not complaining, though, for without out cooler weather in some parts of the country, we wouldn't have the outstanding pinot noirs that are being produced here.

As to bitterness, perhaps there is also a question of variety that should be entered into the general discussion. As a lover of aubergine, I can say that I have been too lazy to take precautions, and while still edible, I regretted my laziness. I, then, did a little digging and found several sources that recommended bitterness-extracting measures for those weighing more than 8oz. If you have not the same experience, lucky you!

Have fun with your food adventures in Singapore. I'm jealous. Happy New Year to you, too.

Susan, lovie ~ I'm not entirely against mint jelly, for a well-made one is an exqisite marinade component for lamb, but I have found that on reading Middle Eastern and Central Asian recipes, that there is a lot to learn about this cooling herb.

On top of that, my first well-made mojito was an eye-opening experience. The only mint-laced drink I had ever previously enjoyed was a spearmint thickshake formerly available at any dairy (corner store).

I have spotted a Turkish place on a main street in Auckland that advertises its "authentic kabobs"...I'll let you know what I find regarding their application of mint.

Deb ~ I love that you have Christmas ornaments that are food-related. I might look into acquiring glassy goods of similar inspiration.

Indeed the dressing is luscious but simple. Some people I know think complexity comes from loads of ingredients. I find that some ingredients are inherently complex, so a simple pairing can yield a tastebud-thrilling experience. This is a dish that proves that assumption.

Diana Henry is a great food writer. She writes articles for Stella, a lifestyle magazine for the Sunday Telegraph, and she presents on "Market Kitchen", a British food programme. She has written four great books, the best of which are "Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons", which is informed by the food of the Mediterranean, and "Roast Figs, Sugar Snow", which crosses continents for sublime Winter dishes. Diana Henry is a constant source of inspiration for me.

Anthony ~ May you have a lovely 2008. Hope you have recovered from the celebrations, love!
I remember when you made that jam! :)

Shaun, this post is a clear indication that people who love certain things are the best at preparing them. Look at those fluffy slices of eggplant in the dish, they look moist and extremely flavourful, and like meat! :) This would be great for a vegetarian main dish.
Oh yum. Man, I love eggplant. It's months off before eggplants start happening around here, but when they do, they happen in abundance. I'll definitely try this out this summer.

I hope you've had a great beginning of the New Year and that 2008 is your best yet.
Cynthia ~ Indeed, my weakness for aubergine is great, so I do tend to treat it with great love and care. I'm glad you appreciate the mallowy slices. I've tried to tempt many a person in the world of aubergine, and I've been pretty successful on that count. I remember, too, that I once overlooked the joys of aubergines.

Christina ~ I'm lucky to get two summers in the space of 12 months. It is funny, for I used to really despise summer (mostly for the heat; the sun's longer days are problematic for me as I am prone to developing moles), but since I have been trying to do more things in the kitchen with the seasonal produce available, I find every season a joy (winter will always have a special meaning, though).

For you, I also wish a year of great joy. Happy 2008!
See...? Now I never remember that you like eggplant. Mohamed and I don't pick them up as often as we think of them... I love them grilled and dressed with olive oil and fresh basil, which when I think about it isn't all that different from mint depending on the dose... plus, when we buy mint, we always have lots to spare.

The salting process is a bit more trouble than I'm usually inclined to go to... but as a main dish, it would be worth it, or even as a tasty side with M's couscous. The thinner, Japanese variety is supposedly more user friendly, if you can get them.

Thanks for the stove top option!
Suzanne, sweetheart ~ You forget I like eggplant? Remember all those Thai dinners we had? If it wasn't you ordering eggplant for the table, it was me.

Yes, I have seen the Japanese variety; it is Eric's mom's preferred variety. I just love the big purply sheen of your standard eggplant...I can never pass them up when I see them - unless of course their skin is dull and body mushy, which happens with incorrect storage.

Eggplant would serve as a perfect foil to M's spciy couscous, depending on the day and how heavy of hand. He must make it next time we're in Paris. Pretty please...
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