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One of nature’s seasonal gifts right now are plump, shiny skinned aubergines. They are one of my favourite summer ingredients as they are great at soaking up all kinds of flavours and work brilliantly in stews, tagines, curries and smoky Middle Eastern dips such as Baba ganoush.

Aubergines also marry perfectly with lamb in the classic Greek dish, Moussaka, but I think that a little smoke and the flavour of the grill are what aubergine does best, so give yours some quality time over an open fire, on a barbecue, in a griddle pan or in a very hot oven. If you resist the temptation to separate them from the heat before they are totally deflated and almost burnt, you’ll be able to enjoy those silky strands of intense flavour in a multitude of exciting ways.

The other day I just sliced a few aubergines, brushed them with spices and olive oil, seasoned them well with sea salt and threw them on the grill. After 2-3 minutes on each side I placed them on a large plate and scattered them with crumbled feta cheese and a few mint and coriander leaves. It was the most deliciously simple thing I had eaten in a long time!

Although the plump, pear-shaped variety, with its near-black shiny-skinned exterior, is probably the most familiar type to most of us, aubergines come in a wide variety of shapes, colours and sizes. All varieties share the same bland, mildly smokey flavour and flesh that's spongey when raw but soft when cooked.

In the past, many recipes recommended salting aubergines to reduce their bitter flavour. This isn't really necessary now, although salting does make them absorb less oil when they’re fried. To prepare, wash the skin and trim off the stalk. Slice or cut the flesh into chunks just before cooking as it discolours quickly.

When cooking with aubergines, be sure to use stainless steel as it will oxidise and discolour in contact with iron. Also keep it away from water, as it soaks it up like a sponge and all that wonderful flavour and texture will be lost. Rather like the tomato, for centuries Europeans thought aubergines were inedible, growing them as an ornamental plant and enjoying their dainty purple flowers and dramatic fruits more than their flavour.

They were considered unhealthy, poisonous even – in fact, the Italian name, melanzana, comes from Latin malum insanum, or crazy fruit. During the 15th century, we learned, if not to love them, then at least to eat them, though it's only in the last century that their delicious potential has been fully explored in western kitchens.

This humble plant has played a major part in many popular regional cuisines throughout the world. The slightly bland flavour of the aubergine makes it the perfect blank slate to which rich and aromatic spices and herbs can be added, try this delicious, simple recipe and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Bon Profit!

MALLORCAN-STYLE STUFFED AUBERGINES: BERENJENAS RELLENAS A LA MALLORQUINA

This recipe is from my cookbook Modern Mediterranean: Sun-drenched recipes from Mallorca & beyond.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 aubergines

150ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

250g minced (ground) pork

1 onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 sprig fresh thyme

350g tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and chopped

1 tbsp tomato purée (paste)

1 tsp sweet paprika (preferably Mallorcan Tap de Cortí), plus extra for sprinkling

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

200ml white wine

1 tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour

200g Manchego cheese, grated

50g fine breadcrumbs

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat the grill until hot. Heat the oven to 180c .

2. Cut the aubergines in halve lengthways and scoop out the flesh, leaving the shells about 1cm/½in thick. Chop the aubergine flesh and set aside. Brush the shells with a little of the olive oil and grill until soft, about 10 minutes. Arrange the shells on a baking sheet and set aside.

3. Heat the remaining olive oil in a heavy saucepan over a low-medium heat and fry the pork for 5 minutes, until browned. Add the onion, garlic and thyme and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée (paste), paprika, cinnamon, wine and the reserved chopped aubergine. Stir in the flour and cook for about 5 minutes, until all the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is dry.

4. Fill the aubergine shells with the stuffing mixture and top each with grated Manchego, breadcrumbs, a drizzle of olive oil and a little paprika. Bake in the oven for 10–15 minutes. Serve immediately.

GRILLED AUBERGINES WITH CRUMBLED FETA AND CREAMY WALNUT DRESSING

Serves 4

Ingredients

3 large aubergines, sliced lengthways into ½ cm-thick

4tbsp olive oil

1tsp ground cumin

2tsp ras al hanout spice mix

1 lemon, juiced

1 garlic clove, crushed

200g feta cheese, crumbled

A small bunch of fresh mint

Salt and freshly ground pepper


Creamy walnut dressing

Juice 1 lime

100g crème fraîche

2tbsp Natural Greek yoghurt

100g walnuts, chopped

2tbsp olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper


1. Combine 80g of walnuts with the crème fraîche, natural yoghurt, lime juice and olive oil in a food processor and blend to a puree. Season to taste.

2. Heat a heavy-bottomed griddle pan until very hot. Season the aubergine slices with spices and brush them with a little olive oil. Place them on the griddle pan and grill for 2 minutes and turn them over until soft and cooked through. Place the aubergines in a bowl.

3. Mix together the lemon juice, garlic and olive oil with salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle over the aubergines and leave to marinate for 5-10 minutes. To serve, arrange the aubergines on a platter, scatter the crumbled feta and mint leaves. Serve with creamy walnut dressing.

MOUSSAKA WITH MINTED PEA PUREE

Aubergines also marry perfectly with lamb in the classic Greek dish, Moussaka. The name is actually Arabic, and it's known, in various forms, from Egypt to Romania. A good moussaka is a joy to behold with cinnamon spiced lamb mingling with the aubergines and a delicious creamy, béchamel sauce. In my recipe I’m serving it with a minted pea puree and green salad…what more do you need?

Serves 6

Ingredients

600g minced shoulder of lamb

75 ml olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cumin

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

150 ml white wine

2 medium aubergines cut into 1 cm slices

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat two teaspoons of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the chopped onions without colour. Add the minced lamb mixture and fry over high heat for 3 - 4 minutes. Add the white wine, chopped tomatoes and oregano as well as the tomato paste. Simmer gently for 20 - 30 minutes while preparing the rest.

For the cheese sauce:

500 ml milk

Fresh parsley stalks

1 bay leaf, torn into small pieces

6 whole black peppercorns

½ small onion, peeled and studded with 3 cloves

40 g butter

30 g plain flour

75 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Heat milk, onion pierced with the cloves, bay leaf, parsley stalks, and peppercorns until boiling. Remove from heat and leave to seep for 20 minutes before straining. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, stir in the flour and cook over a low heat for five minutes.

2. When smooth, start adding some of the strained milk mixture. Stir until smooth, and slowly add more milk while constantly stirring. Cook for 10 - 15 minutes until the sauce thickens. Add half the cheese to the milk mixture and season with salt and pepper. Pass through a fine sieve.

3.Preheat oven to 200°C/ 400°F/ Gas 6.

4. Heat olive oil in frying pan over medium heat and fry the aubergine slices until tender and lightly coloured on each side. Layer the base of a shallow ovenproof dish with the half of the sliced aubergines and season lightly with salt and pepper.

5. Cover the aubergines with the lamb mixture, and then cover the lamb mixture with the remaining aubergines. Pour in cheese sauce and sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese over top. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until the top is golden-brown and bubbly. Serve with minted pea puree and a green salad.

BABA GANOUSH

This smoky aubergine dip with cumin & chili is fantastic dish for sharing, and with homemade flatbreads for dipping it’s an absolute joy to eat.

2 large aubergines

2 garlic cloves

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp lemon juice

½ tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ras al hanout

1 tsp cayenne pepper

2tbsp natural yogurt

1. Preheat the grill to high. Prick the aubergines with a fork and grill them, turning occasionally, until the skin blisters and blackens all over. When cool, peel off the skin.

2. Leave the aubergine flesh in a colander for 15 minutes to drain off excess liquid. Pound the garlic and salt in a food processor. Add the aubergine flesh, lemon juice, spices and yogurt.

3. Blend to a thick purée. Adjust the seasoning.