In our house, we call them brinjals, and other people call them melanzane or egg plants. You either like them or you don’t – like a friend’s daughter who, when she was little, announced to her mother that she really didn’t want to eat allmyjeans!! It took a while to work out that she meant aubergines!
We grow brinjals – the variety we have grown, are beautiful, shiny and a glossy deep, deep purple, and feature in cuisine from all shores of the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Smaller varieties, in other colours, are a feature of Asian foods – they’re on my list of things to grow – as soon as I can find seed.
We always have brinjals in the fridge. Our regular Sunday breakfast includes a slice of fried brinjal, something I used to feel somewhat guilty about until Tim Noakes’ flip to a high-fat diet!
Brinjals are really versatile. One can do much more with them than the relatively popular Melanzane Parmigiana and Moussaka in which they are centre pieces. I make a paté that consists of roasted brinjal, cottage cheese, chopped fresh oreganum, parsley, garlic and brandy. It’s really simple to make because once the brinjal is cool, all you do is puree the whole lot together, chill and serve with crudité, biscuits or crostini.
I must also mention that brinjals are not as fiddly to cook with as they used to be: most recipes recommend that you salt and allow them to stand for half an hour to remove the bitterness. Modern horticulture has developed brinjals that are no longer bitter. I never salt brinjals anymore, and I don’t recall the last time we had a bitter brinjal.
So, here are two awesome, really quick and easy things to do with aubergines:
Brinjal, together with courgettes are an integral ingredient of Ratatouille, the dish that famously turned food critic, Anton Ego, into a warm human being, fond of rats…
Its fancy name (pronounced rat-a-too-ee) belies how easy it is to make: sauté a chopped onion in olive oil, followed by one or two cloves of garlic, chopped, a diced a robot of bell peppers, brinjal and courgettes (zucchini), adjusting quantities so that they are in proportion. Finally, add two or so skinned, chopped tomatoes. Some recipes suggest mushrooms and no brinjals, while others include both. It’s up to you. The most difficult part of this dish is not to overcook it – you want lovely liquid from the various vegetables but you don’t want them to turn to mush, so watch the pot! As it’s just about done, add a good handful of fresh, chopped oreganum and/or italian parsley.
Serve hot or cold – with pasta, beautiful bread or rice – accompanied by a sprinkling of cheese (mild or strong, depending on your preference). Ratatouille makes a lovely side dish or a vegetarian meal.
Grilled Brinjal salad with a chilli yoghurt dressing
This is a variation on a platter served at Jakes in the Village, a few years ago, and a favourite spot when we lived in Cape Town. We enjoyed it so much, I experimented and have now made it my own. The salad consists of slices of brinjal, grilled, placed on a bed of leaves and drizzled with a yoghurt dressing. This simple dressing is made from plain yoghurt, a little chilli jam (or fresh chilli, chopped and some honey) lemon juice, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Of course, garnish with fresh coriander which works so well with chilli!
There are a myriad of other things that I make with brinjals, so this is the first in a series…
First published on 5 June 2014