The colour purple
Country Life UK|September 08, 2021
With gleaming skin and a plump, elongated shape, the versatile aubergine offers subtle, yet luscious succour to countless dishes, says Tom Parker Bowles
Tom Parker Bowles

DESPITE its slick, glossy sheen and generously abundant curves, the aubergine is decidedly modest, shy rather than showy, entirely happy in the supporting role. For this is one of those ingredients (and it is botanically a fruit, rather than a vegetable) that feels no need to shout, lacking the chilli’s roar or lemon’s bite. No, the aubergine has a gentle, subtle appeal, offering luscious succour to flavours more strident than its own.

That’s not to say it’s a second-tier ingredient, however. Far from it, the aubergine plays an essential role in cuisines the world over: Mediterranean hero, Indian stalwart and staple of the East, Near, Far and Middle alike. From smoky Gujarati ringan no odo to Greek moussaka; Afghani turshi bonjon-e-sia pickle to Thai yam makeua yao (aubergine salad); Turkish Imam bayildi (meaning ‘The Imam fainted,’ although whether from delight at the dish or shock at the cost of the oil used, no one is entirely sure) to Italian melanzane alla parmigiana. The aubergine is an astonishingly versatile fruit.

And one that transforms, with the application of heat, from raw and stolid to soft and silken. As seen so beautifully in nasu dengaku, that Japanese classic, where the aubergine is sliced in half, slashed, then slathered with a mix of miso, mirin, sake and soy sauce, before being slid under a raging grill. The result is sweet, savoury and utterly beguiling—culinary alchemy at its best.

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