Monday, May 21, 2007

Aubergine, eggplant, חציל

If you do not know how to deal with aubergine, it is a really terrible vegetable. It can be a tasteless sponge that makes your dish heavy and even make some people ill, whether it is because of allergy or otherwise. It can be a nightmare while preparing dinner. The green of the plant is like a nasty thistle that hurts your fingers and leaves the sensation of having touched a cactus. Throw in the aubergine too late and the whole dish is ready to serve except for the aubergine that is bitter and rubbery. Cast it in too early and the sponge takes in all the fluids messing up the stew for other ingredients. Over the years, I have begun to learn to get the eggplant under control, and I am still learning.
If you peel the aubergine, cut it in strips and cook it with lemon and tahin, you can get a soup that competes with a creamy soup of asparagus -- I am still trying to get that recipe right. I am also perfecting a dish with minced meat and a red sauce. My wife has some good results with softening the cubed eggplant in the microwave. So there is lots to come.

The easiest way to begin getting the aubergine right is by using the oven or the grill. Without additions, aubergine at high temperatures, turns soft, liquid even, if given enough time. The flavor is sharp and pleasantly scorched. The softened eggplant makes for an excellent basis of pastes, sauces and stews. I'll give two of them here.

Take an aubergine and cut it lengthwise in half. Cover the halves with tinfoil and burn them at 200 degrees for about an hour. (This depends on the power of the oven and the size and toughness of the plants. Large and tough needs more time and power.) After this treatment, you can scoop the liquid out of the peel. Mix it with garlic, a little tahin, lemon and pepper for a traditional middle-eastern side dish. Last night though I made two other side dishes.
  1. Mix with oil, lemon, salt and pepper. (Burnt Aubergine, חציל על האש)
  2. Mix with half a spoon of mayonnaise and ground black pepper. (Baba 'Anush)

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