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Aubergines 

The glossy, dark purple-skinned aubergine with pithy, white, seeded flesh is the most common of the many varieties that come in varying shapes and colours. Popular in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, it's baked, fried, grilled, puréed, stuffed and pickled. Salting helps to reduce its spongelike capacity to absorb oil. Although it's technically a fruit (a berry, to be exact), the aubergine also known as eggplant and brinjal is used as a vegetable.

It's native to South-East Asia, but is grown all over the world, and there are many different varieties, including the bulbous, glossy, deep purple zepplin-like types common to Mediterrean cuisine; the small, tubular Asian types; the small, plump and ivory examples; or the scarcely-bigger-than-a-pea varieties grown in Thailand. All varieties share the same bland, mildly smokey flavour and flesh that’s spongey when raw but soft when cooked.

Aubergines has been known since the 5th century in China; from there it spread throughout Asia and the Near East. It arrived in Europe through Italian trade with the Arabs starting in the 13th century. Till the Renaissance, Italians believed aubergines to be poisonous; its name there, melanzana, derives from the Latin mala insane, “apple of madness.”

Varieties

Pea Aubergines: Small, fairly bitter version of an aubergine. They have a fairly tough skin, and burst satisfyingly in the mouth. They are usually added to curries, especially Thai Green Curry for about 5 minutes to soften slightly.

Apple Aubergines: They are a larger, round variety of aubergine, about the size of a plum. They are green and white, and are usually quartered and added to curries. They discolour quickly, so are chopped and added immediately to the curry, and cook in 5-10 minutes when they have softened slightly.

White Aubergines: The aubergine can also be ivory-coloured and ovoid, which almost certainly led people in some countries to name it the ‘eggplant’.

Various Aubergines: Here's a collection of aubergines that are anything but normal or routine. The long and slender green fruits are “Thai Long Green”. The sweet and tender, long lavender aubergines are fruits from the “Ping Tung” variety. “Listada De Gandia” is the purple and white stripped Italian beauty. Then there are three different purple fruited eggplants including “Black Champion” and “Gitana.” And finally, there's the huge radiant green, oval-shaped fruit of the variety called “Green Giant.”

Purchase
Choose aubergines that are heavy for their size, firm, and almost hard without wrinkles. Just picked, an aubergines skin is firm and shiny. When selecting aubergines, look for solid colour all the way to the stem, without any green. Overgrown aubergines can be bitter and spongy. Avoid soft or spotted aubergines, or aubergines with wrinkly skin.
Storage
Aubergines will keep for about 4 days in the refrigerator but will begin to shrivel as it ages.
Preparation
     
  1. To avoid discolouration, cut just before cooking.

  2. Trim the stem end.

  3. Cut large eggplants into 6mm slices.

  4. Peel the end slices or discard them.

  5. Soak in cold salted water for 30 minutes, or until the aubergine releases brown juices.

  6. Drain and proceed with the recipe.

  7. In the past, recipes called for aubergines to be sliced and salted before cooking to reduce their bitterness. As modern varieties are much less bitter that's no longer necessary, unless you're planning to fry them; aubergines soak up oil like a sponge and salting helps reduce that.

  8. Note: Small Japanese and Chinese aubergines don't need salting.

Serving Suggestions
  • Aubergine is often found baked in a Provençale ratatouille.

  • Make Greek moussaka with layers of cooked aubergines, ground lamb, and tomato and red wine, and top with thick cream sauce.

  • Mash roasted aubergine flesh with garlic, tahini (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, salt and cumin for the Middle Eastern dip, baba ghanoush.

  • Layer fried breaded aubergine slices with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese and bake to make aubergine Parmesan.

  • Slice thinly and fry to make aubergine crisps.

  • Dip sliced aubergine in flour, then beaten egg, then breadcrumbs, and pan-fry.

Flavour Affinities

Category: Vegetables

Sub-Category: Vegetable Fruits

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