The reason eggplant is a staple of so many different cuisines is because no matter how you dress it for dinner it will be delicious.
A truly international food, the eggplant is an established presence in almost all cuisines. Its migration from China to Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe has produced across the centuries an endless collection of recipes reflecting its versatility. In some ways it has a universal identity, with many cuisines using it in similar ways. Call it eggplant, aubergine, brinjal or melanzane; smoking, char-grilling, frying and baking are common treatments.
Selection and Storage: Choose eggplant that feel firm and full in the skin without blemishes or wrinkling. Store in a cool spot, wrapped in kitchen towel or a paper bag to absorb moisture. If you want to freeze a surplus, slice and blanch briefly before layering between sheets of plastic wrap or baking paper.
Eggplant goes with: Tomatoes, potatoes, capsicum, onion, fennel, capers, olives, garlic, mustard, coriander, chervil, parsley, mint, sage, star anise, fenugreek, turmeric, cheeses, yoghurt, tahini, anchovies, fish, pork, lamb, sesame and tahini, walnuts and pomegranate.
Recipes and styling Kay Francis
Photography Ken Brass
Char-grilled Rolled & Stuffed Eggplant
2 medium eggplant
Ground chilli powder, to taste
150g pesto (or tapenade)
6-8 anchovy fillets
2 -3 thick slices plain or olive sourdough
Fresh basil, for garnish
1 teaspoon tahini
2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
Juice 1 lemon
Trim ends from eggplant, then slice thinly lengthways. Brush each slice lightly with olive oil and sprinkle one side with chilli powder, to taste. Heat a ribbed grill pan and cook eggplant slices on both sides. Place on an oven tray lined with baking paper.
Preheat oven to 190°C. Mash together the feta, pesto or tapenade and the anchovies. Spread on each eggplant slice. Cut finger-sized pieces from the bread, trim to the width of the eggplant slices. Position one piece on each slice and roll around it. (This helps to make a firm roll, and also the bread absorbs some of the oils and juices.) Secure rolls with toothpicks and then bake 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven, cool slightly and remove toothpicks to serve, either warm or at room temperature. The rolls can also be refrigerated and reheated, or served cold. Whisk together sauce ingredients and pass separately.
Stuffed Apple Eggplant
6 apple eggplant
2 tablespoons butter
5g sage leaves
1 cup walnuts, roasted
1 teaspoon sea salt, smoked if
you have it
2 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese
6 rounds wholemeal pita snack bread
6 slices prosciutto
Preheat oven to 160°C. Cut through eggplant from base to stem, keeping stem end intact, to make 4 sections. Heat butter in a small frying pan, add sage leaves and cook 1-2 minutes or until beginning to crisp. Turn into a mortar and pestle with walnuts, salt and pecorino and pound to a paste.
Place pita rounds onto a jumbo muffin tray. Carefully open base of eggplant and pack some of the walnut mixture into each. Wrap each stuffed eggplant with a slice of prosciutto and then place on a pita bread. Carefully ease into the muffin hole, keeping eggplant upright. Bake for 60 minutes, until crisp and cooked through. Serve warm or at room temperature. They keep well, refrigerated and can be reheated to serve.
Spiced Eggplant Fries with Chinese Cabbage & Pork Salad
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
4-6 thin slices of pork neck
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic
½ Chinese white cabbage, shredded
2 green onions, shredded
2-3 tiny cucumbers (Qukes or baby snacking cucumber)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
1 tablespoon cooking sake
1 tablespoon ponzu
1 large eggplant
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon five spice powder
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon chilli powder
Peanut oil, for deep-frying
To make the salad, dry roast the sesame seeds in a small lidded frying pan until you can hear them start to pop. Remove from heat and cool. Brush the pork slices with the combined crushed garlic and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Heat a ribbed grill pan and cook pork for 2 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and rest.
Combine cabbage, green onion and sesame seeds in a serving bowl. Using a vegetable peeler cut the cucumber into ribbons and add to cabbage. Slice pork and add. Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Sprinkle over the salad just before serving.
To make the fries, trim ends from eggplant. Cut eggplant into finger-sized pieces and sprinkle with sesame oil. Combine five spice powder, sea salt and chilli powder in a bowl large enough to contain the eggplant. Add eggplant and toss to coat well with the spice mixture. Heat peanut oil in a deep heavy based pot until a cube of bread browns quickly when added. Fry eggplant in batches and drain on a tray lined with paper towels. Serve immediately with the salad.
It is better not to let the eggplant stand too long in the spice mixture, the salt tends to draw out the moisture and makes the chips soggy.