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Deep Purple: the Eggplant Collection

Eggplants, "aubergines" in many English/ European recipes, are found worldwide. The familiar big purple ones are tastiest if they are firm and not too large, but do look for both the round and banana-sized white, green, yellow and purple- skinned varieties turning up in stores and markets. Their meaty texture and talent for absorbing spices and flavors means eggplant dishes often taste even better after a day in the refrigerator, letting the flavors mellow. Never cook in iron or aluminum pans, or you will discolor both the pot and the eggplant.

Eggplant tips:
Very large eggplants that are soft or light for their size will be seedy and lower quality. A good eggplant is heavy for its size and has a smooth, shiny skin.
Bitter flavor is more likely if the fruits are raised in very hot weather or with an uneven water supply, but this is not so much of an issue anymore with commercially available eggplants.
You can reduce the moisture and any off flavor by salting, draining/ pressing/ weighting and then rinsing the sliced or cut up eggplants.
Many eggplant recipes are more interesting to eat if you don't cut the pieces too small.
Microwave is a simple way to cook whole eggplants for Baba Ganouj and other pureed eggplant dishes.

Spicy grilled eggplants with coconut milk

8 main dish servings
This is pretty spicy; it depends on how hot your chilies are, so adjust to your taste. Wonderful with Basmati basmati rice, equally good with couscous, and informally with pita bread or even ciabatta. Made with a pureed vegetable sauce, this improves with a day in the fridge, making it an excellent party dish. Don't freeze ahead, though; the spices and garlic don't hold.

3 pounds eggplants (2 very large ones)
2 tablespoons coriander seed
8 green cardamom pods
2 level tsps black peppercorns
1 pound (3 medium) onions
2 tbsps peanut or coconut oil
6 cloves of garlic
1 inch of fresh ginger root
3 pounds (about 10 medium) tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
4 small, hot red chilies
2 1/2 cups lite coconut milk
2 cups packed (2 small bunches) cilantro, chopped
1/2- 3/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

A mixture of eggplants is very pretty in this party dish. Trim the stalk ends off and cut them into fat chunks. Place in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and place in the sink to drain for at least 30 minutes, while preparing the other vegetables.

Peel and roughly chop the onions, then cook them with the oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a moderate heat until they are soft, translucent and sweet. This can take up to 30 minutes.

Once the onions are cooking, crush the cardamom pods with the flat blade of a knife or a rolling pin and shake out the little black seeds. Place all the whole spices except the chilis in a dry heavy frying pan and toast over medium heat about 5 minutes, until fragrant. Grind in a mortar or spice grinder (or clean coffee grinder) to a coarse powder. Peel the ginger and cut it into thin matchsticks. Stir it into the onion along with the sliced garlic, turmeric and herbs.

Peel and seed the tomatoes, chunk them up and add them to the pan. Then while is is cooking, rinse the eggplant chunks and dry. Without oiling them, grill them on a ridged cast-iron grill pan till they are starting to soften and have dark grill lines across them. Turn them so they are cooked on both sides, removing them as they are ready and replacing them with another batch.

Add the grilled eggplants to the onion mix, then pour in the stock, bring it to boil, then add the coconut milk, chilis, a little salt. Turn down the heat immediately, and continue cooking for about 45 minutes at a simmer. The eggplant chunks will become very tender, but stop before they start to shred.

Lift out the eggplant, tomato and some of the onion with a slotted spoon. Reduce rest of the sauce by boiling hard for 5 minutes or so. Now ladle about 3/4 of the sauce into a blender, blend the hot sauce smooth. Be sure to cover the top with a folded dish towel cloth before you turn it on, the sauce can blow the top off the blender. Return the vegetables and the sauce to the pot, then stir in the chopped mint and coriander leaves. Correct the seasoning, heat through and serve over rice. Turkish red lentil soup before, then whole green beans, a yogurt side dish and good bread, and a wonderful dessert- invite your good friends.


Tangy Eggplant Relish: Naaz Khaatoon

serves 4
This is sort of a Middle Eastern salsa, an unusual combination of flavors for Western tongues. Its sour-sweet taste grows on you. It is served cold or room temperature, with Middle Eastern bread for dipping.

6 small eggplants, 2 pounds
2 cups pomegranate juice
OR 2 teaspoons of pomegranate paste mixed with 2 cups hot water
1/2 cup sour grape juice
2 medium onions, coarsely grated
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried mint
salt and black pepper to taste
4 medium tomatoes, 1 1/2 pounds, peeled, seeded and diced

Wash eggplants and tomatoes. Pierce eggplant skins with a fork. Roast whole eggplants in the oven at 400 F for about 30 minutes, until they are soft and slightly collapsed. Remove and let cool, then peel and chop finely. Pour hot water over the tomatoes, then peel and chop finely. Peel onions and grate them.

Add pomegranate juice, sour grape juice, salt and black pepper to eggplants. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes.

Add marjoram, dried mint and grated onions, mix well and remove from heat. Add diced, seeded tomatoes, mix, and serve.