Eggplant

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With their gorgeous glossy skins in deep, rich hues of purple through to black, eggplants have a kind of mysterious beauty. Available in a cornucopia of other colours, shapes and sizes, keep an eye out for these more unusual beauties at farmers markets, Asian grocers and supermarkets alike.

The versatility of eggplant makes it an all-purpose vegetable that can be baked, sautéed, fried, grilled, boiled and braised. Slice it, shred it, cube it, dice it, stuff it, and definitely puree it, too.

Learn how to cook it properly and you will be seduced by its silky texture and delicate sweetness. Undercooked, it can be squeaky and spongy, unpleasant with little flavour.

The nutrient content of the eggplant may not be very exciting, but it is a good source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Because the flesh of the eggplant is so porous, it can absorb oil quickly. Brush lightly with oil just before cooking. Add a little water to the pan when sautéing to reduce the amount of oil required.

The historical journey of the eggplant through China, India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe into the Mediterranean diet has given us an infinite number of delicious dishes to try. Start with the recipes below and eggplant will surely become a favourite.

 

Baked eggplant with miso

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A simple Japanese dish, this highlights the silky softness of eggplant, with a sweet miso dressing.

 

8 small long eggplants

1 tbsp olive oil

120ml mirin

2 tbsp yellow miso paste

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds

 

Preheat oven to 180C.

Cut eggplant in half lengthways and score the cut sides with a sharp knife.

Place in a baking dish and brush with a little oil.

Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes until the eggplant is very soft.

Mix the mirin, miso paste and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat for 3-4 minutes until combined. Drizzle the dressing over the eggplants and cook in oven for a further 5 minutes, or until it starts to caramelise.

Scatter over sesame seeds and serve.

 

Serves 4 as a side dish.

 

(Any extra dressing can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 2 weeks).

 

eggplant dip

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With a stash of this in your fridge, you will never have to buy dip again.

2 large eggplant

4 garlic cloves, skin on

juice 1 lemon

1 ½ tbsp tahini paste

2 tbsp olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season

 

Preheat oven to 200C.

Make a few slits in the eggplants with a sharp knife and place on a baking tray with the garlic cloves. Bake for 1 hour or until very tender inside.

Remove from oven and allow to cool a little, then scrape out the flesh with a spoon. Place the flesh in a food processor and discard the skin. Squeeze the garlic out of its skin and add to the mix, along with the lemon juice, tahini and olive oil. Process to combine. Season with salt and pepper, if required.

Serve with crusty bread.

 

Makes approximately 2 cups.

 

Ratatouille

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A classic French dish, this can be enjoyed as a meal in itself, or accompany anything from fish to chicken, sausages or grilled meats. The addition of fresh herbs and lemon juice at the end balances the richness of the stew.

 

2 ripe tomatoes

1 brown onion

1 yellow pepper

1 orange pepper

2 small zucchini

1 large eggplant

150ml olive oil, plus extra if required

4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

4 sprigs thyme

handful pitted black olives

6 anchovies (optional)

¼ cup baby capers

1 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

½ cup fresh mint leaves, roughly torn

zest and juice 1 lemon

 

Chop all the vegetables into similar size dice, approximately 1-2 cm.

Heat oil in a large heavy based frypan and cook eggplant in batches until golden. The eggplant will absorb quite a lot of oil, so you may need to add a little more, depending on the size of the eggplant. (add a little water as you go, to reduce the amount of oil required). Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.

Add onion and peppers to pan and cook until softened. Add zucchini, garlic and thyme and continue to cook for a few minutes. Add the olives, anchovies and capers and heat through. Finish off with fresh herbs and the zest of the lemon and finally a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Serve immediately.

 

Serves 4-6.

 

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