Although normally associated to sunnier climes, the exotic aubergine has in recent years been widely cultivated on home turf. Now being sown, grown and nurtured throughout the British Isles, numerous varieties of aubergine can now be extensively found in our shops, markets, and grocers; with reduced air miles and guaranteed freshness.
Despite being used predominantly as a vegetable in a variety of international cuisines, the aubergine’s credentials actually categorise it is a fruit. With sponge-like flesh encasing soft, edible seeds, aubergine is botanically classified as a berry although carrying an unconventional, savoury, bitter taste.
As a fantastic source of fibre and packed with antioxidants, aubergine can be distinctly found as a staple ingredient in Indian, South-East Asian, Mediterranean and Arabian cooking – most commonly found in its familiar deep-purple, bulbous appearance. However, the aubergine boasts a catalogue of varieties, although all often retaining its traditional spongey, smoky flesh, and taut and shiny exterior.
Seasonal period: May to October
Flavour friends: Raw, aubergine is particularly bland, but when cooked, it takes on a creamy, smoky flavour. When roasted its musky quality is best enjoyed paired with salty ingredients such as cured ham and cheese. Its sometimes bland nature, however, makes aubergine a great base for aromatic spice such as chilli, ginger and garlic.
Buying, storing and preparing: Select aubergines that are firm to touch and appear to have taut, shiny, vivid skins. Keep in the fridge for 2 – 4 days before gently washing and preparing.
When the aubergine was first introduced to the British Isles, its flavour was extremely bitter, and it was the ‘pre-salting’ process that was used to draw out it’s unpleasantries. As varieties have mellowed in flavour and become more commonplace in our British kitchens, this process is now redundant, however, a little salt before cooking helps to prevent them from soaking up too much oil, tightening the structure and making them less sponge-like.
Cooking: Aubergine can be roasted, grilled or sautéed and used in a variety of dishes to add smoky flavour and a distinct texture.
Roast (whole): Drizzle with a little oil and bake in oven for 30 minutes. Grilled: Slice lengthways, brush with oil and place on grilled pan or under grill for 10 minutes. Sautéed: Dice the aubergine and fry in hot oil for 5 minutes or until golden.