The wonderful vegetable known perhaps most commonly as the eggplant goes by many names: aubergine; melongene; garden egg; guinea squash… In Italy they are known as the melanzane; in alternative Italian etymology, as “mela insane” – translated as “the insane apple”. Here in South Africa we seem to have a particular affinity for the name Brinjal. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you call this fabulous product of nature. What is infinitely more important to consider is what would a moussaka, or ratatouille be without this glossy purple fruit with its white flesh with that irresistible meaty texture? Not even the remotely the same, is what your answer should be. Sadly the flesh does not stay white for long. Once cut, the exposed surface of the flesh rapidly turns brown.
I have eaten red brinjals in Brazil; little white egg shaped and tiny green pea shaped ones in Thailand; In India, long ones, thin ones, black ones, purple ones, lilac ones, round, small, green or orange. They have never disappointed me, except when I tried them raw. They were bitter and unpleasant and definitely need to be cooked to develop their wonderfully rich, meaty flavour.
Brinjals are really very easy to prepare, but one thing that stumps a lot of people is do you salt them, or leave them as is? I personally salt them ever so, though some say it is not necessary. By salting them it stops them from absorbing so much oil. A Brinjal is naturally very low in calories and fats; it’s how we prepare them that adds on the calories.
They contain great amounts of many essential B-complex groups of vitamins such as vitamin B5, vitamin B6 and vitamin B1, B3. These vitamins are essential in the sense that the body requires them from external sources to replenish and required for fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism.
When buying Brinjals, buy healthy looking, firm, shiny, bright-colored fruits that feel heavy and firm. Always take a close look at the stalk; if it is stout, firm, and green, that means the fruit is fresh. Always avoid shrivelled, wrinkled fruit that feel soft. They should be unblemished, without any cuts and bruises whatsoever. They will be bitter and not vey appetizing. Store them in the fridge when you bring them home. They will stay fresh for a few days.
Aubergine and ricotta bake
Ingredients for the tomato sauce:
3 x 410g cans chopped tomatoes, or 1kg fresh chopped tomatoes
½ cup cream
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of sugar
For the Aubergines:
4 large aubergines, sliced in rounds and salted
Olive oil, for frying
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 whole spring onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red pepper finely chopped
400g ricotta cheese
½ cup freshly chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons basil pesto
2 beaten eggs
1 cup cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided into 3
Heat all the ingredients for the tomato sauce together in a saucepan, and cook till the tomato breaks down and is nice and thick.
Drain the salted aubergine slices in a colander for 30 minutes, then wash the salt from them and dry them well. Fry the aubergines on one side, drain on paper towels and set aside till needed.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and add the spring onions, garlic and red pepper, and fry gently till wilted.
Mix together the ricotta, parsley, pesto, eggs and cream into the spring onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
Divide the aubergines into 3 portions and the ricotta mixture in half. Cover the bottom of an oiled oven-proof dish with sliced aubergine, top with half the ricotta mix, half the tomato sauce and a third of the Parmesan cheese.
Repeat the layers – first aubergine, then ricotta mix, followed by tomato and Parmesan. Cover this with the remaining aubergine slices and dust with the rest of the Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 180°C for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve hot or cold.
© Jenny Morris “Cooking with Jenny Morris” 2011 -2015