I’m newly returned from a fabulous yoga holiday in the Spanish Alpujarra mountains, where we practised yoga in the olive and orange groves to the sound of cicadas and golden orioles – bliss! The food on offer was vegetarian, as befits a yoga holiday, and cooked by local Spanish ladies from the hill village of Mairena – all absolutely delicious. Back home, my allotment and garden are overflowing with produce and I find I’m inclined to continue the vegetarian diet – why eat meat when there’s so much produce to experiment with?
Much to my surprise, my aubergine plants, grown from seed (Bonica), had two huge aubergines perfect for picking the week I arrived back – much better than the grafted specimens I bought at great expense last year. We’d had a delicious aubergine recipe at Las Chimeneas whilst I was away, subsequently demonstrated in a fascinating local cookery session and we’d all been issued with the recipe, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to try my Spanish cookery skills! My version is slightly adapted from the original to suit the contents of my kitchen, but I’m assured that Soledad, the cook, changes it every time too!
1 large aubergine
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 large tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
100g grated Manchego or Cheddar cheese
Large handful of basil leaves
1 egg, beaten
Cut the aubergines in half lengthways, leaving the stalk end intact, brush the cut sides with olive oil and bake them on a baking tray in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 180°C, Gas 5, until soft. Allow to cool, then scoop out the soft flesh and put to one side, leaving the skins intact.
Meanwhile, fry the chopped onion and garlic until soft in the olive oil. Place the walnuts on a tray and cook in the oven for 5-7 minutes until starting to turn golden brown, then crush lightly in a pestle and mortar – not too fine. Grate the tomatoes (ingenious – I’d never thought of doing this, but it saves the effort of skinning them as you discard the last piece of skin!) and add to the pan with a squeeze of tomato purée (needed to compensate for the tomatoes available in the UK at this time of year compared with the flavoursome Spanish varieties… mine won’t be ready for a few weeks and hopefully will make the world of difference). Chop the aubergine flesh and add to the mixture with the crushed walnuts, chopped basil and half the grated cheese, then season well. Remove from the heat and stir in the beaten egg.
Fill the mixture back into the aubergine skins, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and return to the oven for 20 minutes to cook through and brown.
Serve with a salad and rice, or just with griddled courgettes served with chopped mint and lime, as I did. Enjoy!
Another old favourite of mine is Aubergine Parmigiana, based on a recipe in an ancient M&S cookbook dating back to the early 80’s! Aubergines were doubtless very new-fangled in the UK in those days, usually seen in moussaka, but this recipe has always been one of my stalwarts.
Aubergine Parmigiana – serves 2-3
1 large aubergine – mine weighed 400g! – or 2 small
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 large can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp tomato purée
Handful of basil leaves, chopped
1 small carton natural yogurt
50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Slice the aubergines crosswise and place the slices on a foil-lined grill pan, then brush with olive oil. Grill until starting to brown, then turn over with kitchen tongs, brush the other side with oil and grill again. Transfer to a tray lined with kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil and repeat with the remaining aubergine slices.
Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft, then add the tomatoes, tomato purée, sugar, chopped basil and seasoning. Cook for 15 minutes or so until well blended.
Place half the aubergine slices on the bottom of a rectangular gratin dish and cover with half the tomato sauce and half the yogurt. Repeat these layers, then top with the cheese and breadcrumbs, mixed together. Cook in a hot oven, 180°C, Gas 5 for 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Serve with salad. Any leftover heats up well for lunch the next day.
My final recipe is based on a delicious dish I had in the famous El Pimpi tapas bar just round the corner from the Picasso Museum in Malaga. My companion and I sat at the bar in traditional fashion and had the most delicious selection of tapas: berenjenas con miel de caña, tortilla and a mixed salad – food fit for the gods! These translate as aubergines with sugar cane syrup – or molasses, I suppose. I nearly gave it a miss as I can’t stand honey (miel), but someone had kindly explained that this was sugar cane “honey” – no bees involved! I used pomegranate molasses, but you could probably use maple syrup instead.
Fried aubergines with molasses syrup (berenjenas con miel de caña) – serves 2-3
1 large Aubergine
100g plain flour
200 ml olive oil
miel de caña (or pomegranate molasses/maple syrup)
Slice the aubergine into 1 – ½ cm slices. Place the slices on a baking tray and lightly salt on both sides. Leave for at least 30 mins to an hour to draw out the moisture, then rinse and pat dry with kitchen roll. (I don’t usually think this “disgorging” process is necessary with modern breeds of aubergine, which aren’t bitter, but for this recipe it seems like a good idea to ensure the flour sticks).
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Tip the flour onto a large plate and season with salt and pepper. Coat the aubergine slices in the flour and press down, turn over with tongs and coat the other side.
When the oil is hot (it should sizzle when you put the slices in), lift the slices with tongs, shaking off the excess flour, and place in the oil. Cook for about a minute on one side until golden brown and then turn over with the tongs and do the same on the other side. When cooked on both sides remove to some kitchen roll to drain. Continue until all the aubergine is cooked.
Arrange the slices overlapping in one layer on a large serving dish/platter and drizzle generously with the molasses. Serve immediately with extra molasses/syrup on the table.