AN AUBERGINE ADVENTURE WITH CHEF JP
Is it a fruit? Is a vegetable? No, it’s an aubergine – or is that an eggplant or a brinjal?
The aubergine (to the Europeans that is), the eggplant (in parts of Asia and Austrailia) and the good old brinjal (that’s Indian, Malaysian and South African) are all actually one in the same.
If this was a veggie party, it would probably be in the same grouping as the cabbage or spinach – a little nerdy, good for you but not exactly the most popular. However, when prepared properly and cooked creatively, the aubergine is great for soaking up oils and spices which has made it a staple in many cuisines the world over.
To add a little more confusion, the truth is that the aubergine is neither fruit nor vegetable technically speaking. It is part of the night shade family and, botanically at least, it’s actually a berry! It’s also a close relative of the tomato and the potato. So there you have it! It’s bit like finding out that the hippo is related to the whale rather than other land loving mammals.
Now that I’ve managed to cook up plenty of confusion, I thought I’d simply focus on these glorious looking purple ovals (which grow well in backyard gardens across South Africa, incidentally) with a view to showing just how you can use this ingredient that so many people don’t understand and, sadly, shy away from as an enchanting and unusual staple in your suburban kitchen.
Also, as we find ourselves getting closer the end of winter season, I thought that we’d pay a tribute to August and, at the same time, create a healthy prelude to spring.
The fact is that the humble aubergine is not just a superfood but, if prepared correctly, is both tasty, and versatile. The soft flesh absorbs so many umami flavours and provides a wonderful way of getting plenty of Vitamin A and Beta Carotene as well as plenty of fibre along the way.
As I mentioned, the preparation is key if you want to get the best flavour out of them. So, once you have sliced them open, it is crucial to give them a good coarse salt rub. The salt preserves the nutrients and neutralizes the Ph level of the water content in the flesh. It also takes away the tartness.
AUBERGINE ROTI AND ALL
Although I usually make my own, I’ve been searching for non-homemade roti’s in Durban for a while now. I admit that, after a lot of trial and error, I finally found some that met my standards – Fatima’s Puff Paratha. These are vegan and no oil is required. Just heat and eat. Although this is a product from Malaysia, it is locally packed right here in the heart of 031.
FROM YOUR 031 PANTRY:
8 Rosa tomatoes, cut in half
1 x diced red onion
1 large aubergine, cut julienne style
100g of sliced white mushrooms
2 medium zucchini
a small cucumber
2 Tablespoons of Canola mayo
2 Tablespoons of crushed garlic
olive oil to cook
Sweat your onions with some olive oil, braise your mushrooms and add your julienne style baby marrow and eggplant. Close the on your saucepan lid and let all the ingredients steam away lid on medium heat. After five minutes, remove the lid and turn up the heat. Add some turmeric, dhania, salt and pepper and let it crisp away for 3 to 4 minutes.
Heat your roti for 30 seconds (even in the microwave), spread with some of your garlic and mayo dip, place your ingredients in your rolled roti, add some tomato, some more salt and salt and pepper and fresh dhania.
Serve with some grated cucumber and you will make any Aunty in Durbs happy!
This grilled, smoky, gluten-free dish is a Middle Eastern delightful rustic treat. This time round, I used three or four small globe aubergines. I added 2 to 3 Tablespoons of tahini, 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice, salt and pepper to season, 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic, 20 ml olive oil and blended this combination until it was silky smooth – and there you have it.
MY GREEK GODDESS
As a chef and culinary artist, I’ve found that eggplant can go with almost everything. If you prepare this right and grill or pan fry them to perfection, they replicate a good steak and are succulent, meaty and flavoursome.
In fact, back in history I’m told they were even known as the poor man’s steak – no wonder that, as the world succumbs to inflation and the economy takes a nose dive, consumption of this food stuff continues to rise. Seriously, though, I think people are just finding out how to cook with them. But that’s fickle food fashion for you.
This time round, I pan fried the aubergines and added two different toppings – the Mama Mayo and the Greek Goddess.
After prepping as explained at the beginning of this blog, I gathered together all my toppings – and you don’t have to follow me here, you an be s creative as you’d like.
For my first version, I grilled some onion along with the aubergine and then added mayonnaise, spring onions and fresh capers to ramp up the saltiness. This is a wonderful balance of taste sensations.
I grilled some eggplant with Greek feta, butternut slices, cinnamon and fresh thyme. Then, I drizzled this combo with some olive oil and seasoned it well, proving that there’s really no end to what you can do with an aubergine.
In fact, with these two dishes, you could even impress your Greek mother in law!
I know that vegetarian pasta could sound a bit boring but, if you use the right mix of ingredients and create the right texture, it works ten-fold and is anything but dreary.
Cook your pasta until it is el dente. Grill a selection of wholesome veggies – I chose aubergine, zucchini and spinach. When all were ready, I mixed them together and then added some sliced avo and a splash of lemon juice in the pan.
The avo will become soft, adding the creamy texture that you would ordinarily achieve by adding cream and, when plated, you’ll have a great vegetarian feast.
When you think of sushi, you immediately think raw fish – but, take it from me, you can make your own visually exciting veg sushi.
Slice your baby globe eggplant in 1 cm disks, salt them and leave in the fridge for 15 minutes. Rinse them and damp them with a paper towel. Coat them in some self-raising flour and grill them on a medium heat till golden brown.
To add some further colour and flavour, place some pickled ginger on the aubergine, drizzle with some grapeseed oil, add some dried seaweed and tofu and then plate them with your garden of herbs.
It may be something of a look-alike dish but it is tasty and even works well if you are serving pre-dinner tasters – especially if you have vegetarian guests.
By the end of your aubergine day and, once you have tried all of these recipes and ideas, you’ll certainly understand the versatility of the humble aubergine in all of its glory! From its beautiful purple colour to the richness of its flavour to an ultra-healthy way of adding plenty of
variety when cooking with veggies! Here’s a toast to the awesome aubergine!