Ingredient | Aubergine

Dried AuberginesAn Asian native (from the Burmese region), aubergine is a member of the nightshade family (which includes peppers, potatoes and tomatoes) and is essentially a fruit not a vegetable.

Aubergines were grown in Sicily over a thousand years ago and were distrusted by the natives who ate them reluctantly during famine years.

Confusion over the true nature of the fruit led physicians to claim it caused fevers and fits. Eating aubergines certainly caused flatuence and a certain amount of hysteria. Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, agreed at first with the superstition. He applied the latin suffix for insanity, for solanum insanum. Then he changed his mind and gave the aubergine its modern latin name – solanum melongena.

Brought daily into the eastern and southern Mediterranean region by Arab caravans, the Moors of northern Africa delighted in its distinct fried oyster flavour and numerous uses. When the Moors invaded Spain in the 12th century they attempted to grow aubergine seeds in the slightly colder climate. The plant thrived in the porous well-drained soil.

Aubergine is now grown in southern Italy, southern Spain, south-eastern France, Turkey and Greece. It is the main ingredient in MOUSAKA (Balkans, Greece and Turkey) INVOLTINI DI MELANZANE E PROSCIUTTO (Italy), RATATOUILLE (France) and IMAM BAYILDI (Balkans, Turkey).

Aubergines can be boiled or baked, cooked and fried in oil, grilled, steamed and roasted, stuffed and added to vegetables in various combinations or as an accompaniment to meat. It is added to plov/pilaf, baked with a plain cheese topping and served with tomato sauce. It is also made into a purée. In Azerbaijan and in France, the aubergine is the main ingredient in traditional omelettes.

Modern nutritionists extol its virtue, because it lowers cholesterol, aids the digestive system, combating constipation (hence the flatulence), stimulates the liver and generally helps the body deal with internal problems.

Despite being 90 percent water for every 100 grams and low in protein (just one gram), the aubergine is rich in calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, potassium plus vitamins PP, A, B1 and B2.

Modern varieties of aubergine are not as bitter as their ancient cousins. They do not need excessive salting. Although salting also draws out water, it requires washing to reduce the saltiness. This is unnecessary. Soaking cubes or slices in oil is a better method for softening. Then the oil can be squeezed out and re-used.

The aubergine also has its own story.

A long time ago, perhaps around the time of the Arabian Nights, a young girl known as a good cook was selected by an imam for marriage. As a dowry the priest asked her father for 12 large jars of virgin olive oil.

Returning from her wedding, the girl cut several aubergines and left them to soak in the olive oil her father had put aside for her dowry. After 11 days the aubergine slices had soaked up all the oil.

When the imam saw this he fainted at the shock of the loss of the oil.

This is why many restaurants serve aubergine fried in oil and call it Imam Bayildi – ‘the priest fainted’.

An alternative version suggested the priest swooned after tasting the declicious dish the girl eventually made with the aubergines.

Aubergines come in several shapes and numerous colours. The large egg-shaped, glossy deep purple aubergine is the most common but it also comes in black, green, yellow and white.

Before cooking aubergine take a look at the Belladona plant, the queen of the nightshade family, and look at their similarity.

Melanzane di Foggia

2 large aubergines, 
cut into 1 cm thick slices along the length
100 ml olive oil
50 g breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
20 ml milk
10 g peperoncini/chill flakes

Arrange the aubergine slices on a large plate. Using the tips of your fingers rub oil into the slices on each side. Leave for an hour.

Spread breadcrumbs on a separate plate.

Whisk milk into egg.

Place aubergine slices on top of each other, press down to push out excess oil.

Dredge slices in the egg-milk mixture.

Lightly coat each slice with breadcrumbs, then sprinkle a little peperoncini/chilli on each one.

Cook under a hot grill, three minutes each side, or bake on a large wide tray, the slices separated from each other, in a 180°C oven for 20 minutes.


Imam Baialdi

One of the classic Ottoman dishes, and always associated with Turkey’s traditional cuisine, the fainting or swooning priest left an impression in the former colonies of the empire – especially in the Aegean and Balkan regions.

This is the Romanian version.

750 g aubergines, small 90-95 g each
180 g cabbage, shredded
3 onions, sliced
1 garlic bulb, crushed
1 parsnip, grated
1 carrot, grated 
1 celery stalk, grated
1 green pepper, grated
50-200 ml olive oil
500 g tomatoes
15 g paprika, hot
10 g pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Remove stalks from aubergines, wash and cut four deep slits along their length.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil, blanch aubergines for ten minutes.

Arrange aubergines on a wooden cutting board, place a second board over them and something weighing at least one kilogram on the board. This will allow excess water to drain out. Leave for two hours.

The amount of oil used in this dish is a personal choice. For this amount of vegetables 20 ml of oil is sufficient to sauté the onion and garlic, leaving 30 ml for the sauce.

When the onion is transparent, sprinkle the paprika and a pinch of salt, and remove from heat.

Make a sauce with the oil, pepper, sugar and tomatoes.

Mix the cabbage, carrots, celery, pepper and parsnip with garlic-onion-paprika, and stuff into the slits in the aubergines.

Place the aubergines in a casserole or deep baking tray. Cover aubergines with the tomato sauce.

Bake in a 200°C oven for 30 minutes.

The traditional Turkish version calls for the aubergines to be submerged in salted water for 15 minutes after two incisions have been made along the length of each one.

Dry, then fry lightly in 80 ml olive oil until golden brown. Remove from oil and place alongside each other in a large wide saucepan.

Add another 80 ml of olive oil to the saucepan the aubergines were fried in and sauté eight cloves of crushed garlic and two large onions sliced into rings until soft.

Remove from heat and add 350 g diced tomatoes, 120 g chopped parsley, thin slices from one garlic clove.

Stuff this onion-tomato mixture into the slits in the aubergines, add 500 ml of water, cover and and simmer for an hour, until the aubergines are soft.

If only large aubergines are available, cut them in half along their length, remove the pulp after frying and stuff with onion-tomato mixture. The water in the saucepan should not cover the aubergines.

Some cooks bake their stuffed aubergines, a method that can produce tough skins.

Melitzanes Fournou

The Greeks, who are masters at baking aubergines, make meat, vegan and vegetarian versions of this delicate dish.

1 kg aubergines, cut into 1cm long slices
500 g plum tomatoes, mashed to a paste
250 g onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
30 ml olive oil

Sauté onions in olive oil over a low heat for 10 minutes.

In a separate pot cook garlic and tomatoes over a medium heat for five minutes.

Incorporate garlic-tomato sauce with onions. Season the sauce.

Oil a casserole dish, and arrange the aubergines with a smear of the garlic-onion-tomato sauce on each slice. Continue until all the slices have been used up, pour remaining sauce on top. Season with pepper.

Bake in a 190°C oven for 45 minutes.

For the meat version brown 500g of beef mince and add to the sauce with 25 ml olive oil and 50 ml water, bake for two hours.

Roughly 500 g of cheese, usually cașcaval and feta, can be spread on top 20 minutes before the end of baking.

Involtini di Melanzane e Prosciutto

In Italy they combine their aubergines with parmigiano, proscuitto and tomatoes to make delicious snacks.

3 large aubergines, cut lengthwise 
into 5 mm thick slices
400g prosciutto, thin sliced
Parmigiano, fresh, sliced and grated
240 g fresh or tinned tomatoes
Basil (optional)
6 cloves garlic 
Olive oil, for frying

Grill aubergine slices under a hot grill, three minutes each side.

Leave to cool on a rack.

Sauté garlic in oil in a deep frying pan, add tomatoes, season with salt, cover and cook until the pulp has dissolved.

Cover each aubergine slice with a slice of prosciutto and two slices of parmigiano, finishing with two or three basil leaves, if available.

Roll tightly, pushed together.

The aubergine rolls can be cooked in the frying pan with the tomato sauce, but fasten each roll with a toothpick, and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Alternatively transfer the tomato sauce to a small deep baking tray, place the aubergine rolls tight against each other and bake for 30 minutes in a 160°C oven.

With ten minutes to go, spoon some sauce over the aubergines and sprinkle with grated parmigiano.

Patlicanli Borek

Back in Turkey the love affair with aubergines shows no sign of abating.

500 g minced meat
30 g sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
3 large aubergine, cubed
4 large tomatoes, mashed 
500 g borek pastry dough
200 ml milk
100 g yoghurt
30 g sunflower oil
2 eggs
30 g sesame seeds

Cook onions in oil in a deep frying pan over a medium heat for five minutes.

Turn heat up full and fry aubergines, adding more oil if they stick to the pan, until they start to wilt. Turn heat down, cover and sauté gently for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add meat, cook until brown, seasonings and tomatoes. Cook covered for ten minutes.

Whisk eggs, milk, oil and yoghurt.

Grease a deep baking tray.

Cut dough into four 125 g pieces, roll each into a square, 48 cms wide. Cut each piece into quarters.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

On each quarter of pastry spoon some of the meat mixture followed by half as much yoghurt mixture.

Roll into a tube, twist into a rose shape, or take each corner and bring together to make a parcel.

Place each one tightly together on the tray, top with remaining sauce and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Other Aubergines

Baklažano Suktinukai LITHUANIA Aubergine Rolls

Beğendi TURKEY Aubergine Puree

Brungiel Mimli MALTA Stuffed Aubergine

Imam Baialdi/Imam Bajalldi/Imam Bayildi ALBANIA KOSOVO MONTRNEGRO TURKEY Stuffed Aubergine

Involtini di Melanzane e Prosciutto ITALY Aubergine and Ham Rolls

Khorovats ARMENIA Barbecued Beef/Chicken/Fish/Lamb/Pork, Aubergine, Peppers, Tomato

Melitzanes Fournou GREECE Baked Aubergines

Moussakás/Moussaka GREECE MACEDONIA MONTENEGRO Aubergine Bake

Patlicanli Borek TURKEY Borek With Aubergine Filling

Plov AZERBAIJAN Basmati Rice with Chicken/Lamb, Aubergine, Dried Fruit

Ratatouille Niçoise FRANCE Aubergines with Garlic, Onions, Peppers, Tomatoes, Zucchini and Olive Oil

Türlü TURKEY summer stew