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!