Sticky ginger-garlic aubergine

I love aubergine. Unfortunately my husband can’t stand them. He’s very tolerant of my plant-based experiments, but sadly aubergine is his red line that can’t be crossed! Which is not too much of a problem as there are so many other delicious plant-based foods to play with. Plus he’s often away, so aubergine becomes my indulgence when he’s on his travels.

He’s not the only one who can’t or won’t tolerate aubergine. Some people find it too bitter (although this is much less of a problem now than in the past as cross-breeding has removed much of the bitterness) whilst others can’t stand the texture, particularly when it’s over-soft and mushy. Then there are those who are sensitive to produce from the night-shade family which includes aubergines. Continue reading “Sticky ginger-garlic aubergine”

Baked spicy stuffed aubergine

Luckily my lovely husband is really open to eating my creations; he celebrates the successes and tolerates the disasters! He’ll try most things but there are two vegetables he just can’t get to grips with – aubergine and beetroot, which is a shame as I love them both. But as he’s away a lot with work, I make sure I get my fill then, rather than torturing him with things he just won’t like.

Hopefully you don’t have the same dislike as him because I have two delicious recipes to share with you – one beetroot coming up soon and this aubergine dish.  This recipe is super easy and ridiculously tasty, and is packed full of amazing plant-based nutrients. It also features two great sources of plant protein and a shed load of fibre to keep your gut microbes happy.

In the past, the tiny seeds found in the flesh of aubergine have given it a reputation of being bitter. You may be surprised to hear that it’s nicotine in the seeds that create that bitter flavour. There’s only a small amount though, so don’t fret that you’ll suddenly find yourself on a 20 aubergine a day habit! The traditional way of modifying this was to coat it in salt which would draw out the water from the flesh along with the bitterness, but it’s rare to find a really bitter one these days as cross-breeding has modified the flavour to make it more palatable.

The exciting thing about aubergine is it’s colour. In the world of rainbow eating, purple foods are hard to come by. And aubergine skin has a gorgeously deep purple hue. It’s colour comes from a powerful phytonutrient called nasunin and is helps to protect cell membranes from damage. It also helps to remove excess iron from the blood stream. This may sound like something you don’t want to happen, but excess iron can cause havoc in the body if left circulating and some people have problems excreting it. So anything that helps is a good thing, although you’d need to eat it on a regular basis!

This recipe is perfect for using up leftover rice or quinoa. It’s so easy to cook too much of both. I never want to waste food, so I’m always looking for ways to use it up, and making a tasty stuffing is perfect. Both wholegrain brown rice and quinoa are good sources of plant protein, as are black beans. Until fairly recently, these small legumes were not that easy to find in the shops, but their rising popularity in the plant-based food world has got them up on the shelf – hooray! High in protein and insoluble fibre, they also contain a wide range of minerals including zinc which is essential for healthy immune system. Interestingly, black beans contain phytonutrients from the same group as aubergine, and are really a deep red/purple colour, so you’re getting a double whammy on the purple nutrient compounds with anti-oxidants that support our cells.

This recipe can be used for 2 or 4 people – if you are catering for four, serve one half with some spicy roasted sweet potatoes and a green veg like broccoli or stir fried cabbage. If you want to keep it simple, just serve on a bed of mixed green leaves. And if you are cooking for one, just halve the recipe and enjoy it all by yourself! If you have time, whizz up coriander dairy-free yoghurt to drizzle over the top. It finishes it off perfectly.

Baked spicy stuffed aubergine (serves 2-4 people)
2 medium sized aubergines
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 fat garlic cloves, finely diced
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
100g mushrooms, chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper
100g cooked wholegrain rice and quinoa (one or both)
2 big handfuls spinach, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, stems and leaves, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Rinse and dry the aubergines then slice in half lengthways. You need to remove most of the flesh, so leaving a 1cm rim, cut a round into the flesh, score through the centre bit to make a dice and scoop it out with a teaspoon. Rub a smidge of olive oil onto the outside of the skin, place on a baking sheet, cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes or so until it starts to soften and become pliable.

Whilst the skin is baking, chop the removed aubergine flesh and put to one side. Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a non-stick frying pan and sauté the onion and mustard seeds for 5 minutes until the seeds are lightly toasted and the onion starts to soften.Stir in the garlic and chopped aubergine flesh cook for a minute, then add the tomato and chopped mushrooms. Continue to cook for another few minutes until the tomatoes and aubergine are soft and mushy and water runs out of the mushrooms. Add the spices, salt and pepper, black beans and cooked rice/quinoa. Stir well to combine. Finally add the chopped spinach and most of the chopped coriander (retaining a few leaves for garnish) and simmer for another few minutes until the spinach has wilted and everything is hot and steamy. Check the flavour and add more spices or seasoning as needed. Once you’re happy with your flavour, turn off the heat.

Remove the aubergine shells from the oven. Carefully spoon in the stuffing mix, pressing it in lightly to make sure its well filled. Place back in the oven and back for another 15 minutes until the shell is lovely and soft and the top lightly browned. Remove from the oven and garnish with the reserved coriander. Drizzle coriander yoghurt dressing over the top if using and serve. Enjoy.

 

Tomato and roasted aubergine baked gnocchi

It’s been unseasonably wet and cold here in the UK – summer seems to have gone elsewhere and we’ve been fast forwarded to autumn. Fighting the urge to put the heating on, it seemed a good idea to turn to some comfort food, using one of my favourite seasonal veggies, aubergine (eggplant).

I am a big fan of aubergine for both flavour (or rather it’s ability to absorb it) and texture – I love how the flesh goes all gooey and soft when cooked but the skin stays firm. It’s packed full of nutritional goodies like  B vitamins and manganese, but more importantly it’s purple! That means glorious phytonutrients that act as anti-oxidants and support cell processes to keep us healthy. One specific one, nasunin, is thought to help protect the fats found in cell membranes from being damaged; this is particularly important in the brain, so aubergine really is brain food!

Two fat bulbous aubergines arrived in the veg box this week; my daughter is also finally home for the summer, so of course I’m smothering her in mummy-love via her stomach! So this dish is perfect as it contains many of her favourite things – gnocchi, aubergine and cashew cheese.

If you’ve not made cashew cheese sauce before, then it’s really worth it! We have given up buying dairy free cheese as, to be honest, they generally taste unpleasant and are packed full of altered fats and flavourings – not good for anyone with food intolerances as you just can’t tell what is in there! This recipe does contain nutritional yeast, although it can be omitted if you cannot tolerate it. As yeast is one of my food intolerances, this is quite a new (and welcome) introduction to my diet. Even though it contains inactive yeast, I can only tolerate a little from time to time, but that is progress! It adds a lovely cheesy flavour and acts as a source of vitamin B12 which can be lacking at times in a plant based diet. If you do omit it, just add a bit more salt to enhance the flavour.

This dish really hit the spot; it’s rich, it has depth and just ticks all the boxes for comfort. It also contains surprising few ingredients for the flavour – the richness comes from roasting the aubergine and garlic, as well as adding a little tamari (use coconut amines if you cannot tolerate soy). I confess I am yet to perfect the art of making home made gnocchi – mine turns into tough, heavy lumps – so I used shop bought. Make sure you check that it’s dairy free, as many brands add in milk powder, and doesn’t contain a huge long list of additives. There are some good gluten free ones around too in the supermarket, but again make sure they are completely plant based.

This is definitely a multi-tasking recipe – the gnocchi, roasting and sauce making can all go on at the same time so it doesn’t take all day to make! The recipe serves 3 good portions, just double if you’re cooking for more, or want left-overs – and you will because it’s just so tasty! Enjoy – and don’t forget to let me know how you get on!

Tomato and roasted aubergine gnocchi with cashew cheese sauce (serves 3)

1 large aubergine, cut into small chunks
1 clove of garlic
dash of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
1 tablespoon tamari (or coconut amines)
pepper
500g gnocchi
For the cashew cheese sauce
80g/1/2 cup cashew nuts, soaked for minimum 1 hour
125ml/1/2 cup water
2 heaped tablespoon nutritional yeast
Himalayan salt
white pepper

Bring a large saucepan full of water to the boil, add the gnocchi and bring back to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes until it’s bobbing at the top of the pan, then drain well and transfer to a baking dish.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Cut the top off the bulb of garlic and peel off some, but not all of the outer layers. Place the chopped aubergine into a baking tin with the garlic bulb in the middle. Drizzle over a dash of olive oil, or water if preferred, and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the aubergine is soft and gooey. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

Whilst the aubergine is cooking, heat a few tablespoons of water in the bottom of a saucepan and sauté the onion for a few minutes until it starts to soften – do not let it burn. Add more water if needed. Pour in the tomatoes, herbs, tamari and tomato puree, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer with the lid off (this allows some of the fluid to evaporate and concentrates the flavour). Once the aubergine is roasted, add it to the pan. Careful cut the roasted bulb of garlic open and squeeze a few of the squidgy cloves into the sauce – I used four cloves to really enrich the flavour. Save any left over in the fridge for another recipe. Leave the sauce to simmer for a few more minutes whilst you prepare the cheese sauce.

Drain the soaked cashew nuts and place them in the bowl of a small blender. Add the remaining ingredients and blitz until smooth. Add more seasoning, nutritional yeast or water as need to get the flavour and a good pouring consistency.

Pour the tomato sauce over the gnocchi and stir carefully to combine. Spoon the cashew cheese sauce over the top and bake in the oven for 15 minutes until everything is piping hot and the sauce starts to brown. Serve with a green salad and a big smile!

Creamy baba ghanoush

During my time in India, I started a love affair – with the fabulously tasty aubergine! There was so much more to this vegetable than I had ever imagined, with an ancient history, multiple varieties and different guises, it was easy to be enticed into a whole new realm of culinary possibilities.

I was surprised to discover  that, botanically, aubergine is actually a fruit; a berry to be precise. Before my departure to sunny climes, I thought aubergines were only large, oval, deep purple and went bitter and mushy when cooked. I discovered that there are around 2000 different varieties of aubergine in India alone, ranging from tiny to giant (1kg in weight), oval, round, long, thin, bulbous, prickly and in many hues – deep purple, red-purple, green, yellow, white, striped and even orange.

Native to India, aubergines are known by the generic name of brinjal, although this varies from area to area depending on the local language. In Hindi, it’s ‘baingan’ which literally translated means “no exceptional qualities” which is rather sad!! In the US and Australia, aubergines are eggplants; some early 18th century versions were white and egg shaped, hence the name. Western Europe tends to use aubergine, apparently coming from Arabic (useful information for your next pub quiz!)

Aubergine is a key ingredient in many Indian dishes.  Highly nutritious, it’s known as both “poor man’s meat” and the “king of vegetables” possibly from a Tamil folk tale (it has a crown!).  So adaptable, it can be cooked in many ways – baked, roasted, bbq’ed, fried, pickled, used for dips and chutneys and even soufflé.  And of course, aubergine pops up in all sorts of cuisine from around the world – Middle Eastern, Arabic, Mediterranean and Asian. 

Aubergine have a high water content, and are excellent source of potassium and other key nutrients such as calcium, folic acid, vitamin C and other anti-oxidants.  Unfortunately, they absorb oil and so become high calorie if fried, but also highly delicious, delectably melting in the mouth.

Its a great vegetable for use in a plant based wholefood diet, as when cooked it produces a delicious creamy texture that can provide additional richness to a dairy free dish. One of my favourite is Baba ghanoush, aubergine dip, a rich and flavoursome dish – I made this the other day for some friends and it disappeared off the table in a flash!  Traditionally, olive oil is added, but I find that baking the aubergine in the oven first until cooked creates enough soft, rich flesh that oil just isn’t needed. Beware with the amount of garlic you use though – the flesh absorbs other flavours so well that it can be pretty strong without meaning to – maybe not one to prepare for a romantic date!!

I have a number of delicious, aubergine dishes to share, including a great brinjal curry my maid taught me and an Italian inspired stuffed aubergine roll, but for now, here’s healthy, low fat baba ghanoush. Enjoy with toasted flatbread, or my chickpea dippers http://foodiesensitive.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/no-dairy-no-calcium.html

Tantilisingly creamy baba ghanoush
1 large aubergine
1 tablespoon tahini
1 -2 cloves garlic, crushed
juice 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
To get a smoky flavour, first place your aubergine directly onto a gas flame (if you have a gas hob) and scorch the skin. Once slightly toasted, wrap in tin foil and roast in the oven for 30 minutes or so at 200 degrees C until soft to touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool – don’t open the tin foil yet. Once cool, carefully unwrap the aubergine, pouring the juices that will have collected in the foil into a blender. Cut open and scoop out the cooked flesh, leaving behind the tougher skin, and place in blender with the juice. Add the remaining ingredients and blitz until combined and really smooth. Check for seasoning, adding more salt and a little black pepper if required, and more lemon juice if it’s not quite tangy enough. Share with others if you dare, or indulge by yourself!