The key to unlocking the best flavour of this in-season vegetable is in the preparation. Once you have this down, try these North African, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-inspired recipes
Aubergines, which are in season in Ireland right now, have an almost sponge-like ability to soak up all manner of flavours, from North African and Asian spices to the sunny ingredients of the Mediterranean and Middle East.
A whole aubergine can be roasted, baked or cooked over a fire, or cut in slices or chunks and fried in olive oil. It’s the essential ingredient in everything from melanzane alla parmigiana and moussaka to baba ganoush and zaalouk, the Moroccan aubergine and tomato salad.
The way that I most often find myself cooking aubergine is to drizzle the chunks or slices with olive oil, season with some salt, and cook on a hot, dry grill pan until soft and deeply coloured on either side. The pieces can then be added to a curry, a Mediterranean tomato sauce or simply drizzled with some pesto.
Aubergines must be completely cooked all the way through — the flesh should be very soft without any firmness or resistance, otherwise they tend to taste bitter and unpleasant.
The flesh of the aubergine is such a special ingredient. It is the basis for the famous Middle Eastern dish, moutabal (the recipe is below); and baba ganoush, which also includes the sesame paste tahini, some lemon juice and lots of olive oil.
A delicious dip with a distinctive smoky flavour from charred aubergines, it’s great on its own with pitta bread to mop it up, with grilled or roasted lamb, or as part of a mezze plate.
The aubergines with tomatoes and gentle spices recipe, also below, is a really good Indian-inspired vegetable accompaniment to roast meats such as pork, lamb or chicken, and also a really good veggie starter to serve with goat’s cheese and rocket leaves.
I love the aubergine and lentil curry featured below; it’s vegan-friendly too. Served with rice, wedges of lime, some natural yoghurt, and pitta or flatbreads, it’s a feast for a midweek meal or a dinner party.
Finally, the fusilli with aubergine, basil and pine nuts recipe freatured here is such an easy, classic Italian recipe containing the magic combo of ingredients that works so deliciously well.
You will need:
3 tablespoons coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, grated or finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely grated
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric
Freshly ground black pepper
100g dried red lentils
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes or 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled (see my Top Tip, below) and chopped
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
500ml vegetable stock or chicken stock
50ml melted coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
To serve, you will need:
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
Wedges of lime
A bowl of natural yoghurt
1 Put the 3 tablespoons of coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil, whichever you’re using, in a saucepan or casserole pot over a medium-to-high heat. Add the grated or finely chopped onion, whichever you’re using, and the crushed or finely grated garlic, whichever you’re using. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly until the onion has softened and is starting to turn golden at the edges.
2 Add the ground cumin, the ground coriander, the garam masala, and the turmeric, and season well with freshly ground black pepper. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes until the spices become fragrant, then add the red lentils, the chopped tinned tomatoes or the fresh tomatoes, whichever you’re using — (make sure to add any tomato juice), the salt and the sugar. Cook for 5-8 minutes, until the tomatoes have softened.
3 Once the tomatoes have softened, add the vegetable stock or the chicken stock, whichever you’re using. Bring to the boil and continue to cook, partially covered with a lid, for approximately 5-10 minutes more, until the lentils are tender.
4 While the lentils are cooking, prepare the aubergines (see Rachel Recommends, below). Cut them into 2cm chunks or 1cm slices and put them in a bowl with the 50ml of melted coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil, whichever you’re using. Toss the aubergine pieces well so that all sides are covered in oil, then cook them in a hot pan, sitting on a medium-to-high heat, until they’re golden all over, and tender inside.
5 Add the aubergines into the curry. Cook gently for another couple of minutes so the flavours can mingle. Add the chopped fresh coriander, and taste for seasoning. Serve with boiled rice, lime wedges and some natural yoghurt.
To peel the tomatoes for the aubergine and lentil curry, cut an X in the skin of each tomato and drop into boiling water for 10-15 seconds, then peel and discard the skin.
If you prefer, instead of pan-frying the aubergines in the recipe above, you can roast them on a parchment paper-lined tray in a hot oven, for approximately 10-15 minutes, turning them over halfway through.
You will need:
2 aubergines, cut in 2cm-thick slices
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 generous tablespoon peeled and chopped ginger
6 cloves of garlic, finely grated
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground coriander
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne
1 Put the aubergine slices in a bowl, and drizzle over 3 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss until the aubergine slices are lightly coated in oil.
2 Place a frying pan or a grill pan on a high heat and when it is good and hot, add a single layer of aubergine slices. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side until golden, lightly charred and very tender. They shouldn’t have any firmness left. If they’re not soft, continue to cook until they are.
3 Arrange the aubergine slices on paper towels when they’re done and set aside. Repeat with any remaining aubergine slices and continue to cook until all the aubergine slices are cooked.
4 Put the chopped ginger, the finely grated garlic and the water in a blender or small food processor and whizz until smooth.
5 Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil into a clean frying pan and place on a medium heat. When hot, add the fennel and cumin seeds. Stir for a few seconds, then add the fresh or tinned chopped tomatoes, the sugar, the ginger and garlic mixture, the ground coriander, the cayenne and some salt. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.
6 Add the fried aubergine slices. Stir gently to coat. Cover, then reduce the heat to low and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
You will need:
25ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 aubergine, cut into 1cm cubes
3 cloves garlic, finely grated
2 tablespoons tomato purée mixed with 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons basil leaves, torn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper and a good pinch of sugar
500g fusilli pasta
To serve, you will need:
50g lightly toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons basil leaves, shredded or torn
25g grated Parmesan
1 To make the sauce, heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a frying pan, add the diced aubergine and and cook on a high heat till golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the finely grated garlic and cook for a few seconds more.
2 Add the tomato purée and water mixture, the torn basil leaves, the salt, freshly ground black pepper and the sugar. Lower the heat and cook until the aubergine is soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add more water if the aubergine sticks to the frying pan.
3 Put the pasta on to cook in a large pot of boiling water with 1 generous teaspoon of salt. Cook for 7 or 8 minutes, or until just cooked. Drain, keeping a few tablespoons of the cooking water with the pasta, then stir in the sauce. Toss to coat the pasta in the sauce. Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts, the shredded or torn basil and the grated Parmesan. Serve in warm wide bowls.
You will need:
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle
1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds (optional)
1 Place the aubergines on a wire rack directly over a gas flame and cook them, turning them regularly so that all sides get gorgeously charred, until the flesh is tender. This will take about 20 minutes. Alternatively, cook them on a barbecue or on a pan sitting over a high flame, or even in a hot oven.
2 When the aubergines are cooked, put them in a bowl, cover the bowl with a plate, and allow to cool.
3 When the aubergines are cool enough to handle, peel them and discard the skins. Allow the flesh to cool down further to room temperature.
4 Finely chop the cooled aubergine flesh and place in a bowl. Add the tahini, the lemon juice and some sea salt to taste and mix well. Tip into a serving bowl.
5 Drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkle with some pomegranate seeds, if you are using them.
6 Serve the moutabal with pitta bread or as part of a mezze plate.