Rosie Birkett highlights this month’s aubergine crop and how to use it
She was so right. Aubergines are versatile, and, once cooked, almost meaty, making them ideal for filling veggie meals. Depending on how much oil is used, they can feel virtuous or indulgent, and there are seemingly endless ways to cook them. Like tomatoes, they are members of the nightshade family, and as the saying goes, ‘what grows together goes together’ – this is proved in ratatouille and caponata. They taste great together, the porous aubergine absorbing the tomato’s juices – seasoned with plenty of olive oil, of course.
In terms of variety, we’re rather spoilt. If you’re looking for something special, keep an eye out for the aptly named ‘graffiti’ or Rosa Bianca aubergines, which are bright purple with vivid streaks of white. While they don’t hold their markings during cooking, they’re a cheerful addition to any shopping haul. I love fat, round aubergines for curries and the small, long aubergines that are almost violet in color – these are often used in Asian cuisine with chili, spring onion, and garlic or ginger. On a recent trip to Malaysia, I tried Thai aubergines for the first time in a lamb and coconut curry. They were small and green, like large peas, very bitter, filled with pips and unlike any aubergine, I’ve ever tasted. I enjoyed them immensely.
Most of the time, a standard aubergine does the job. I love how they slice into perfect circles and find frying them in oil until they caramelize and collapse to be rather therapeutic work. They become rich and luscious, begging to be paired with something bold or sharp – such as a pickle, tamarind sauce, harissa or pomegranate molasses.
My favorite way to cook aubergine – one that’s particularly brilliant this time of year – is to grill them until they char and the flesh is imbued with an irresistible smokiness. This method is used to make next-level baba ganoush – a Levantine dip that mixes mashed aubergine with tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. I’ve also enlisted it here for smoky black bean ragu (p54), which we’ve served with tortillas. Any leftovers will also make a lovely dip with tortilla chips – it’s great topped with slices of avocado.
Smoky pulled aubergine & black bean tacos
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