The aubergine hasn’t always had the most pristine reputation. There was a time when eating one required a complicated dance of slicing and salting and draining to remove its unpleasant bitterness. Luckily, though, most mass-market aubergines available in the UK have now had the bitterness bred out of them, so aubergine dishes are no longer so frustratingly time-consuming.
Once society has managed to find an alternative sexting emoji, the aubergine’s rehabilitation will be complete. In the meantime, let’s look at the ways aubergine can be utilised in all manner of global dishes.
Meera Sodha’s recipe for aubergine donburi is just four months old, but has already taken on mythic status. Sliced aubergine, cooked in a sticky sauce of garlic, ginger, sake, mirin and soy sauce, laid over a bed of rice. If you know an aubergine sceptic, make this for them and instantly change their mind.
For something a little less comforting and a little more exciting, Nigel Slater’s recipe for baked aubergine with gochujang and beans is here to save the day. On the surface, this looks like a classic aubergine dish – it is mixed with tinned tomatoes and haricot beans and baked under a layer of breadcrumbs – but the addition of fiery Korean gochujang means that it will knee you in the groin while it’s stroking your hair.
Eight years ago, Hideki Hiwatashi, then head chef at Sake No Hana, offered an aubergine dish that, while not classically Asian, still manages to thrum with the noise of sesame. His sesame-fried aubergine with fig takes minutes to make – the fig and the aubergine are floured, fried and dressed with a tahini and wine sauce – but chuck it on some rice and you have a deceptively fancy midweek dinner.
Another good pairing for aubergine, as hinted at by the Slater recipe, is tomato. Yotam Ottolenghi is a man who knows his aubergines, and his recipe for baby aubergines in tomato sauce with anchovy and dill yoghurt is up there with the best of them. The bones of it are simply roasted aubergine in tomato sauce, lifted by a cumin burnt butter. The dealbreaker for you might be the phrase “anchovy and dill yoghurt”, but those brave enough to try it will be rewarded.
A little more conservatively, Immigrant’s Table also has a fine recipe for aubergine shakshuka. You already know what shakshuka is, because you couldn’t move for Instagrammed shakshuka three years ago, but this is arguably an improvement. The aubergine adds a bulk that simply isn’t there in the traditional version, which means you’re less likely to gaze on longingly when your brunch companion orders a dirty great bacon sandwich.
Finally in the tomato section, Egg Info has another variation on the shakshuka that works better as an evening dish. Its aubergine and tomato baked eggs recipe trades the spice of the shakshuka for pesto and cheese. It’s a largely hands-off process, and it’s ready in 40 minutes. You are welcome.
Now, assuming that it is still visibly summer when you read this, salads. We’ll start with Sam and Sam Clark’s recipe for aubergine and pomegranate salad, from their book Moro East. Here, the aubergines are treated slightly differently. They’re grilled whole until the skins char and the flesh is soft. If you have a barbecue going, this is ideal. If not, the gas ring on your hob will do the trick.
For something even more profoundly summery, there’s Gill Meller’s aubergine, courgette and lettuce salad with toasted seeds, mint and tahini dressing. What’s brilliant about this dish is that it anticipates the aubergine’s bitterness – Meller even roasts them for a little longer than usual to encourage it – so that it plays even better against the yoghurt, honey and tahini in the dressing.
Rukmini Iyer’s The Roasting Tin books are some of the best cookbooks of the past decade. Her recipe for roasted aubergines with mozzarella, chilli, lemon and flat-leaf parsley is a perfect example of why. Chop up an aubergine. Roast it. Make a dressing. Chuck on some cheese. Done.
Finally, since aubergine is technically a fruit, here’s an aubergine cake. Melanzane al cioccolato is a dish from the Amalfi coast, and it is basically aubergine with chocolate. Cooking with Rosetta’s recipe there is a handy step-by-step, but imagine a lasagne made of layers of fried aubergine, ricotta and chocolate sauce. I mean, you’d try it at the very least, right?