How’s your relationship with the aubergine (often referred to as “eggplant”)? Each of us likely has had a love/hate relationship with the aubergine over time. I think this comes down to the way it is prepared. There is more to this versatile vegetable than meets the eye and it’s high time we rekindled our relationship with the aubergine.
Customarily purplish in color, occasionally white- striped, sometimes all white, botanically known as a berry and closely associated with tomatoes and peppers, the aubergine is nutritionally powerful. It is an excellent source of fiber and nutrients.
Eggplant comes in different shapes of round, oval, and teardrop. Generally, it is not meant to be eaten raw. The taste is bitter with a spongy texture and high-water content. However, prepared correctly it is a real delight to devour.
Aubergine is a Star
Although a humble vegetable, the iconic eggplant is the star of the show in many global cuisines. Growing up In Hong Kong, we would use it in Sichuan cuisine with spicy flavors. In Italy you will find it in lasagna with a tangy tomato profile. Expect to see it in a sweet, spicy, coconut curry, if you enjoy Thai cuisine. And the list goes on…Greek Moussaka traditional creamy casserole, Indian Brinjal Sambhar.
But over time I’ve noticed that the eggplant is not a favorite with some…why not? I think it is simply the way we treat the unfortunate aubergine.
Rekindle the Relationship
Let’s make up for lost time. Here are some simple tips and a recipe to help rekindle the relationship.
1. Aubergines love heat! Both heat and charring bring out the element of sweetness, whilst removing sponginess. Eggplants should never taste spongy! Charring over an open flame, grilling it on a barbecue, or simply roasting it in an 400 degree oven should do the trick.
2. Feed your aubergine! A well-crafted spice rub or even simple sprinkle of olive oil is a must to enhance the natural flavors. These odd-shaped delights are very versatile and easily absorb foreign flavors.
3. Give them time! Eggplant shouldn’t be rushed. 40 minutes in the oven, 5 minutes for a stir fry in a hight heat wok.
Time, Attention and Care
Much like a friendship, our job, as chefs and home cooks, is to coax the best from the astounding aubergine. It simply needs time, attention and care.
In fact, whenever I was consulting with chefs or training my teams, I always included an eggplant in my “mystery basket” for the stages (an unpaid internship, which determines a chef’s techniques). It is a true test of skill and attention. The best chefs know how to make the aubergine shine.
So, come on everyone! Show some love to the often overlooked aubergine. Rekindle that relationship and you will be pleasantly surprised.
From my kitchen to yours, here is one of my favorites: Smoky Aubergine & Red Bell Pepper Chutney recipe with global flavors to tantalize the palette.
I learned the techniques of charring vegetables over an open flame from my aunt who lived in Morocco. She was visiting us in Hong Kong when I was a young girl and I recall our time together in her kitchen where she lovingly placed the tongs in my hand and told me, “Don’t be afraid to blister the peppers, you want the char. That is how you get the flavor!”
I have since redeveloped this recipe, replacing green peppers with red for a sweeter flavor profile. I subsequently used it many different ways in dinner events and caterings over the years.
Smoky Aubergine & Red Bell Pepper Chutney (serves 4)
2 large aubergines, cut in half lengthwise, scored crisscrossed replicating a diamond pattern
2 large red bell peppers, cut in halves, de-seeded,
4 cloves garlic, skin on
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon cumin powder,
2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 grinds of black pepper
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + 2 tablespoons reserved for emulsifying
½ cup toasted chopped marcona almonds, skin off
2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped chervil (closely related to parsley but has a milder flavor) for garnish
There are two options, char the produce over open flame or oven roast. The smokiness will not be compromised due to the cumin and smoked paprika.
Brush the cut aubergine with some of the olive oil, sprinkle on spices. Lay the aubergine face down on a baking sheet. Same application with the peppers. Place garlic on a small piece of foil, brush it with olive oil, paprika, salt & pepper, and make a little package. Roast in a preheated 400-degree oven for 40 minutes. Once done, set, aubergine aside.
In a food processor blend pepper, peeled garlic, tomato paste, sherry vinegar and chopped marconas, slowly drizzle in remaining olive oil for emulsification.
Place roasted aubergines on a plate, crown with chutney, garnish with chopped chervil, serve with pita, ciabatta, chapati, pasta, farro, quinoa….