Ingredient of the Week: Aubergine
Each week plant-based cook Bettina Campolucci Bordi, founder of Bettina’s Kitchen, will give us the lowdown on a particular seasonal vegetable or ingredient, offering cooking tips and a recipe. This week it’s aubergines.
Aubergines are about to have their big moment. Although available all year round, they’re cheapest and at their best from July to September. They come in all shapes and sizes and feature in many cuisines from around the world.
The aubergine is part of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes and peppers, but is often overlooked as a fruit and seemingly treated as a vegetable when it comes to cooking. They can be seen as difficult and sometimes a bit scary to cook with, especially with their somewhat spongy texture.
Growing up in a multicultural family, my Bulgarian side of the family often enjoyed aubergines – cooked into stews, stuffed on their own or as part of bigger meals.
I have discovered a brilliant way of cooking them by cutting them in a specific way that cooks them quicker and enables the marinade to penetrate the inside of the flesh. This helps to add flavour and keep the outside part nice and crispy. You can choose different flavours but for the recipe here I have chosen to go with middle eastern flavours.
Recipe: Middle Eastern Traybake
I love Middle Eastern flavours, especially on plant foods. The spices and textures give the veggies a different dimension and flair. The secret to this dish is how you cut your veggies so pay attention – I call this ‘hedgehogging’ and it is the way you would cut a mango. It is perfect for making sure the flavours are really absorbed into the flesh of the vegetables – and they cook more quickly, too.
Makes 2 portions
- 1 large aubergine
- 1 red onion, quartered
- 400g tin of butter (lima)
- beans, drained
For the dressing
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon harissa
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- salt and freshly cracked black pepper rice, quinoa or flatbreads, to serve
For the toppings
- tahini (sesame paste)
- pomegranate seeds
- herbs of your choice
- Preheat the oven to 180°C . Line a baking pan with baking parchment.
- To hedgehog the aubergine, cut it in half lengthways. Cut the flesh of each half lengthwise into quarters without cutting through the skin. Then make 6–8 cuts across the flesh to divide the flesh into chunks.
- Put the aubergine and onion in the prepared pan. Mix the dressing ingredients in a bowl, then gently brush some over the veggies. Add the butter beans to the bowl with the remaining dressing, toss and add to the baking pan.
- Pop in the oven for 20–25 minutes until everything is golden brown. The beans should be slightly crunchy and veggies brown and soft.
- Once done, serve with rice, quinoa or flatbreads.
Aubergine cooking tips:
The age old tip of adding salt to your aubergine slices to draw the moisture out still holds up as a cooking tip. Simply add salt to sliced aubergines to draw out moisture for an hour or so before cooking. They are great additions to salads or sliced thinly horizontally, then marinated and made into sandwich fillers (think veggie bacon but real veggie, less fake meat vibe). I also love them barbecued. Simply left on a barbecue until they collapse, the flesh dug out and mixed with crushed garlic, salt, pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil with bread to scoop it all up.
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