Aubergines

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This year we have had our best crop of aubergines ever in the greenhouse. Our Black Pearl and Falcon plants from Vitalis Organic Seeds have produced with a vengeance. Aubergine plants grow to a height of about 2ft and have beautiful grey, g

reen leaves, and pretty purple flowers.
Aubergines are not a vegetable that appeal to everyone at first but after a few encounters the earthy flavour can become addictive. There are many more varieties besides the dark purple we are familiar with. They may be cream, wine or green striped. We have also grown a pale lavender variety called Asian Bride which is very beautiful. Anyone who has seen the white egg shaped variety will know why they are also called eggplants.
I find the slimmer varieties have the most flavour and are favoured by many cooks. As in all of nature there are male and female plants, and you can tell the difference by appearance. The male is more rounded at the end, the female more pointed. The female aubergine tends to have more seeds. Slight bitterness is one of the characteristics of aubergines – the males are less bitter than the females – a flavour some find off-putting at first but soon grow to love. Aubergines are enormously versatile, they can be grilled, barbequed, roasted, stuffed, sautéed or steamed as in Madhur Jaffrey’s Steamed Aubergines with a Peanut Dressing where the texture becomes meltingly tender. When I char them over a gas flame until the skins are blackened the interior flesh takes on an irresistible smoky flavour. Aubergines are a favourite ingredient in the Middle East, Indian and Mediterranean repertoire of recipes. They make delicious fritters and marry well with the gutsy flavours of the Mediterranean anchovies, olives, garlic and of course roast peppers and tomatoes and herbs like oregano and basil. The grape aubergines which look like a bunch of grapes are also delicious in Thai curries, but if you can’t find those just dice one of the larger ones.  If the aubergines are large, one can draw out the moisture and bitterness by salting first. To prepare aubergines, cut or slice the aubergines into slices or cubes, sprinkle with dairy salt or sea salt, toss and drain the slices by standing upright in an oven rack on a roasting tin. The cubes should be put into a colander and allowed to drain for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove, dry each piece well and continue with the recipe. Vitalis Seeds www.europrise.ie.  

Aubergine Fritters

These are delicious as a snack or served with roast lamb – courgettes work very well also.

1 – 2 aubergines cut into 5mm (¼ in) slices
salt

Batter

125g (good 4oz) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg preferably free range organic
1 tablespoon olive oil
about 150ml (1/4 pt) water

First salt the aubergine slices for 15 minutes, drain and dry well. Meanwhile make the batter.
Whisk the ingredients together, adding extra water if necessary. Dip the slices of aubergines into the batter and fry them in 1cm (1/2 in) of extra virgin olive oil. This may sound expensive but fritters cooked in olive oil have an extra good flavour and crispness. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately.


Rose Gray’s and Ruth Rogers’ Caponata

Taken from the new River Café Classic Italian Cookbook published by Penguin Books.

There are as many ways to make caponata as there are cooks in Sicily. The basis of caponata is the popular aubergine, and the dish evolves according to what other vegetables you wish to include. All caponatas have wine vinegar as part of the seasoning and most include capers, olives and pine nuts. This recipe has celery as its other strong flavour, which makes a light, refreshing version.

For 6

1 large round, pale aubergine, about 12cm in diameter, or 2 medium round, pale aubergines
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 whole heads of celery, with leaves
1 large red onion, peeled
2 ripe plum tomatoes or 3 drained from a tin
extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely sliced
2 dried red chillies, crumbled
3 tablespoons black Ligurian olives, stoned and kept whole
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed, then soaked in 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons mint leaves, washed
6 slices of sourdough bread

Cut the aubergine into 1.5cm cubes and place in a colander. Sprinkle with sea salt and drain for 30 minutes. Wash off the salt and pat dry.
Cut the tender white part of the celery into 2cm lengths. Put them into a pan, cover with water, add 1 teaspoon of sea salt and bring to the boil. Cook for 3 minutes, then drain. Cut the onion into fine slices and peel and core the tomatoes, then chop them into 1cm pieces. Heat 3–4 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan, and add the aubergine pieces in batches so that they just cover the bottom of the pan. Fry over a medium high heat for about 5 minutes, turning the pieces over until brown on all sides. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat this process; you may need to use extra olive oil if it has all been absorbed in the first batch. Wipe the pan clean and return it to the heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the onion. Reduce
the heat and gently soften the onion until it becomes golden; this will take 10 minutes. Add the garlic and celery, and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes, to combine the flavours. Season with pepper and crumble in the chillies. Add the tomato pieces and just let them warm up in the mixture, but not really cook, then stir in the aubergines. Cook all the vegetables together briefly for 5 minutes. Test for seasoning and stir in the olives, pine nuts and the capers including the vinegar they have been soaking in. Finally, chop the mint and stir it into the mixture with a drizzle of sweet
extra virgin olive oil. Toast the bread on both sides to make bruschetta, and serve with the caponata.


Madhur Jaffrey’s Steamed Aubergines with a Peanut Dressing

Serves 4-6

Madhur Jaffrey introduced us to this delectable aubergine recipe from Northern China. It can be served as a starter or as an accompanying vegetable or as a salad. It goes particularly well with cold meats. Madhur urged us to seek out long slim variety of aubergines rather than the larger seedy ones.  She has lots of delicious recipes for this versatile vegetable in her cookbooks.

560g (1¼ lb) aubergines
50g (2oz) raw peanuts, roasted and ground to a paste in a clean coffee-grinder or 3 tablespoons freshly made peanut butter from a health food shop
50 ml (2fl oz) Chinese light soy sauce
25 ml (1fl oz) Chinese red vinegar (use red wine vinegar as a substitute
15 ml (1fl oz) sugar (use a bit more, if needed)
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine
15 ml (1fl oz) sesame oil
15 ml (1fl oz) garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
15 ml (1fl oz) fresh ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
2 tablespoons green coriander, very finely chopped, both leaves and stems, plus a few extra green coriander sprigs for garnishing

If the aubergines are the long, slim variety, quarter them lengthways, and then cut them into 7.5cm (3inch) long fingers.  If using the more common, fat aubergine, cut it into fingers that are 7.5 x 2.5cm (3inch x 1inch).  Steam over a high heat for 15-20 minutes or until tender.
Meanwhile, combine all the remaining ingredients except the green coriander in a bowl and mix well.  This is the sauce.
When the aubergine pieces are tender, lift them out carefully and arrange them neatly in a single layer in a large platter.  Stir the sauce.  Add the green coriander to it and mix again.  Pour the sauce evenly over the aubergines.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.  This dish may be prepared ahead of time, covered and refrigerated.  Garnish with the green coriander sprigs just before serving.

Rick Stein’s Aubergine Curry with Tomatoes, Ginger and Fennel Seeds

If you can get them, use ‘finger’ aubergines for this. They are shaped rather like small courgettes and hold their shape well during cooking. This is a simple curry, but interesting as it uses a lot of fennel seeds, a common flavour in Bangladeshi food. Incidentally, they call them aniseed there, but they are not because I wondered into a kitchen in Sylhet and tried them.
As through India, as indeed in some Indian restaurants in the UK, sugar-coated fennel seeds are offered at the end of a meal as a breath freshener and digestive.

This recipe is from Rick Stein’s great new book ‘Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey’ published by BBC books.

600g aubergines, ideally Asian finger aubergines
150ml vegetable oil
40 g fresh root ginger, roughly chopped
40g garlic, roughly chopped
2 green cayenne chillies, finely chopped
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp freshly ground coriander seeds
½ tsp turmeric powder
400g chopped tomatoes, fresh or from a can
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp each chopped fresh coriander and mint

Top and tail the aubergines and cut in half lengthways. If using larger Mediterranean-style aubergines, cut each one across in half and then each piece lengthways into 6 – 8 wedges. Toss them with ½ tsp salt and set aside in a colander for 10 minutes. Heat a large frying pan over a high heat. Pour the oil into a shallow dish. Brush the aubergine pieces, a few at a time, with oil, put them in the frying pan and cook for 3 – 4 minutes on each side until richly browned. Cooking the aubergines in this way helps prevent them from absorbing too much oil, which would make the finished dish greasy. Set aside in a bowl and repeat with the remaining aubergines. Put the ginger, garlic and chilli into a mini food processor with 2 – 3 tbsp water and whizz to a smooth paste. Put 2 tbsp of the remaining of the remaining oil into the frying pan and add the fennel and cumin seeds. Leave them to sizzle for a few seconds, then add the ginger and garlic paste and leave this to fry for a further 2 -3  minutes. Add the coriander and turmeric, fry for 1 minute, and then add the tomatoes, black pepper, 3 tbsp water and ½ tbsp salt. Cover and leave to simmer for 8 – 10 minutes until reduced and thickened slightly. Return the fried aubergine slices to the pan and stir well to coat in the sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes, then stir in the fresh coriander and mint and serve.

Continuing our Count Down to Christmas…
My Favourite Christmas Cake

This makes a moist cake which keeps very well. It can either be made months ahead or, if you are frenetically busy then it will still be delish even if made just a few days before Christmas – believe me I know!. If you make it this week it will mature beautifully between now and Christmas. I will give instructions and suggestions on how to ice closer to Christmas.

Serves about 40

110g (4oz) real glacé cherries
50g (2oz) whole almonds
350g (12oz) best-quality sultanas
350g (12oz) best-quality currants
350g (12oz) best-quality raisins
110g (4oz) homemade candied peel
50g (2oz) ground almonds
zest of 1 organic unwaxed lemon
zest of 1 organic unwaxed orange
60ml (21⁄2 fl oz) Irish whiskey
225g (8oz) butter
225g (8oz) pale, soft-brown sugar or golden caster sugar
6 organic eggs
275g (10oz) flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 large or 2 small Bramley seedling apples, grated

Line the base and sides of a 23cm (9 inch) round, or 20cm (8 inch) square tin with a double thickness of silicone paper. Then tie a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin. Have a sheet of brown or silicone paper to lay on top of the tin during cooking.

Wash the cherries and dry them gently. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1–2 minutes, then rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon zest. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/ 325°F/gas mark 3.

Cream the butter until very soft. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the mixed spice with the flour and stir gently into the butter mixture. Add the grated cooking apple to the plumped up fruit and stir into the butter mixture gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).

Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake – this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked.

Now lay a double sheet of brown paper on top of the cake to protect the surface from the direct heat. Bake for 1 hour. Then reduce the heat to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2 and bake for a further 21⁄2 hours, until cooked; test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean. Pour the remainder of the whiskey over the cake and leave it to cool in the tin.

Next day, remove the cake from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper but wrap the cake in some extra greaseproof paper and tin foil until required.

Store in a cool, dry place; the longer the cake is stored the more mature it will be.

Hottips
Everyone at O’Connell’s Restaurant in Ballsbridge in Dublin was celebrating last week; they have just been awarded The “Just Ask!” Georgina Campbell Restaurant of the Month Award for October 2009. This brilliant concept is a public awareness campaign that aims to encourage consumers when eating out to look for information on where the food (particularly meat) on their plate comes from and to encourage chefs to provide this information on their menus. O’Connells Restaurant, Ballsbridge – telephone 01 665 5940.
Cork Free Choice Consumer Group – Learn ‘How To Make Sourdough Bread’ A step by step demonstration and explanation by Declan Ryan of Arbutus Breads at the Crawford Art Gallery Cafe at 7.30pm on Thursday 29th October Admission €6.00 including tea, coffee and tastings. For further information contact Caroline Robinson on 021-7330178.

Good Things Café and Cookery School in Durrus. Carmel Somers’ new season schedule has just been published and includes lots of tempting cookery courses. Everyone loves the informative and convivial atmosphere. Telephone 027 61426 – www.thegoodthingscafe.com

Pizza Workshop at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Friday 30th October 2:00 to 5:00pm. Philip Dennhardt has built up a cult following for his pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven. Learn how to make the dough, shape the pizza and make a variety of sauces and toppings €85.00. Tel 021 4646785 www.cookingisfun.ie

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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