Aubergines tend to be perceived as an exotic and strange fruit and are often overlooked by home cooks, which is a shame. They are wonderfully versatile with a great texture – they are meaty and rich with a seductive hint of smokiness, not to mention being a great vehicle for flavours.
Aubergines belong to the Nightshade family and you can purchase them in most shops. These days, you can find quite a few varieties to experiment with as well. They can also be grown successfully in the UK.
What to look for when buying:
You want taut, smooth and shiny skin with no blemishes. Make sure to look out for a green and un-withered stalk and a fruit that feels heavy, rather than dried up and shrivelled. Keep them in the fridge and try to use up in a few days. They do bruise easily so handle with care.
How to prep and cook:
Aubergines used to have to be salted to draw out their bitterness, but that step can now be omitted. If your aubergine tastes bitter, it is probably due to being undercooked. They take around 15 minutes to cook properly when sliced. They should be creamy, but still with a bit of a bite, but no hint of bitterness. Marinating before cooking is a great step, as they soak up flavours brilliantly. You can slice, fry and add to bakes, like Moussaka, grain salad or serve with a simple drizzle of yoghurt, tahini, salt and lemon. Add cubed aubergine to stews, soups or slow roast the whole thing until collapsed and completely softened and blend into a dip.
Aubergine goes well with most spices and herbs, truffles, tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes and many other fruits and veg. They lend themselves well to smoky flavours, so throwing them on the barbecue and letting them char will result in a seriously luscious creamy texture with a fabulous smoky aftertaste. Try cooking them with salty ingredients such as Miso, soy sauce, fish sauce, tamarind, etc. Cheese is also a great combo – mozzarella, cheddar, halloumi, feta and other soft cheeses. They can be paired with meats as well and for a vegetarian/vegan dish, just add lentils and pulses for the protein.