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Born in the purple: all about aubergines

PUBLISHED: 15:51 11 July 2017 | UPDATED: 14:43 12 July 2017

Aubergine curry. Picture: Kerstin Rodgers

Aubergine curry. Picture: Kerstin Rodgers

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A versatile vegetable, you can grill, fry, bake or BBQ it

Aubergine curry. Picture: Kerstin Rodgers Aubergine curry. Picture: Kerstin Rodgers

The key to a good diet is variety - of taste, flavour, texture, cooking method and colour. All dark food contains anthocyanins: research indicates these are anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory, good for eyesight and the immune system. Purple food, from lilac potatoes and broccoli to claret-hued carrots (their original colour), Brussels sprouts, blueberries, grapes and red cabbage, is part of this healthy range. My favourite purple food is aubergine or, as the yanks call it, eggplant, as early versions were small, cream coloured and egg-shaped.

Aubergines used to be quite bitter and required salting to alleviate an unpleasant taste, but modern cultivars no longer need to be degorged. Salt also helps prevent the vegetable from soaking up too much oil when fried. As an occasional treat, fried aubergines are heavenly; soft melting insides contrasting with crispy violet skin. This is one of the few dishes that my part-Italian dad cooks: ‘moulinyan’, as he calls it, Neapolitan dialect for aubergine, half-remembered from his childhood.

A versatile vegetable, you can grill, fry, bake or BBQ it. Roasted and pureed, it will make - with the addition of garlic, olive oil and tahini - the classic Middle Eastern dip baba ghanoush. In Sicily, they add fried aubergine to peppers and tomatoes to make the sauce for pasta alla norma. I only occasionally cook the Italian Eggplant Parmesan Melanzana Parmigiana as it takes so long: hours of frying, layering and saucing to make a rich baked dish, even better the day after. Aubergine is often used to replace meat.

Here are three delicious aubergine recipes from Spain, Georgia and India.

Aubergine recipes Georgian Rolls. Picture: Kerstin Rodgers Aubergine recipes Georgian Rolls. Picture: Kerstin Rodgers

MsMarmitelover’s next supper club is with Professor Tim Spector, author of ‘The Diet Myth’: September 9, The 100 ingredient Supper Club. edibleexperiences.com/p/69/The-Underground-Restaurant/1680001/The-microbiome-supper-club-with-Tim-Spector

Georgian rolls (Nigvziani Badrijani)

This is good as a starter or canapés, or as part of a meze. Take time to slice the aubergines; it’s easiest if you have an adjustable mandolin.

Ingredients:

2 red peppers

4 cloves garlic, in their skins

2 large aubergines, sliced lengthways, 1/2 cm wide.

50ml olive oil

50g walnuts, toasted if you wish

4tbsp breadcrumbs

Handful of coriander leaves

1/2tsp paprika, sweet

A pinch of cumin, ground

1tsp sea salt

2tbsp pomegranate molasses

A bunch of spring onion stems (optional)

Pomegranate seeds

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Put the peppers and garlic cloves on a top shelf and cook until blistered. Remove from oven, remove skins, stems and seeds from the peppers and skins from the garlic.

Brush the aubergine slices with olive oil.

Grill or shallow fry until both sides are slightly blackened.

Using a blender, blend the peppers, garlic, walnuts, breadcrumbs, coriander, salt, paprika and cumin together. Add the pomegranate molasses. Adjust seasoning.

Using a tablespoon, scoop some of the mixture into the aubergine slices and roll up.

Optional you can use a spring onion green stem to tie up the rolls.

Scatter with pomegranate seeds.

Aubergine fries (berenjenas a la cordobesa)

Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients:

2 large shiny aubergines, cut into chips

150ml whole milk

100g polenta

1tsp sea salt

1/2tsp white pepper, ground

100ml olive oil

3 large tbsp honey

Method:

Prepare two bowls, one with the milk, the other with polenta. Mix the polenta with salt and pepper.

Place a wide deep frying pan on a high heat, and add the olive oil.

Dip the aubergine chips first in the milk, then the polenta. Set aside until you have enough to cover the bottom of the frying pan in one layer. Fry in batches until golden.

Drizzle the honey over the aubergine fries.

Indian Brinjal curry

Serves 4 to 6

The trick for a good curry is to use a mix of whole and ground spices that are fresh

Ingredients:

12-15 mini aubergines

75ml vegetable oil or ghee

1tsp mustard seeds

1/2tsp turmeric powder

4-5 cardamom pods, black or green

A pinch of ground nutmeg

1 stick cinnamon

1 star anise

1/2tsp cumin, whole

1tsp coriander seeds, whole

1/2tsp cumin, ground

1 brown onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 thumb fresh ginger, grated

6 plum tomatoes, chopped

2 dried kashmiri chillies, ground

1tbsp sea salt

Handful of roughly chopped coriander leaves

Method:

Slit the mini aubergines lengthways into quarters, but don’t cut down to the bottom, leave the stem.

Using a wide deep frying pan, heat the cooking oil and put it the mustard seeds. Let them pop.

Add the aubergines.

One by one, add the spices, the onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and chillies. Salt to taste.

Cook until the aubergines are soft on the inside, then scatter with coriander leaves.

Serve with naan or rice.

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