there are some things which i buy purely on the basis of how they look, these baby aubergines (or egg plant, or brinjal, if you prefer) being a case in point. thankfully though, the baby version is just as delicious as the full size one and my visual choice wasn’t a duff one. unlike many bottles of wine which, despite a pretty label, were not so pretty on the taste buds!
having said all that, the nigel slater spiced aubergine stew which they ended up in was cooked so long and slow that they did lose their shape and no-one knew just how pretty they were to begin with. apart from me of course which is what really matters!
as with many spicy dishes, this stew is all the better for a day in the fridge, during which time the flavours seem to mellow.
nigel slater’s spiced aubergine (serves 6)
2 tablespoons coriander seed
8 green cardamom pods
2 level teaspoons black peppercorns
3 medium onions
2 tablespoons groundnut oil
6 cloves of garlic
a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
10 medium sized tomatoes
500ml vegetable stock
2 rounded teaspoons ground turmeric
4 small, hot red chillies
800ml coconut milk
2 small bunches of fresh coriander
1 small bunch mint
wipe the aubergines, cut the stalks from them and cut them into fat chunks. the dish is more interesting to eat if you don't cut them too small. tip them into a colander, put them in the sink and sprinkle salt over them. leave them for a good half hour, longer if you can. 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.
while 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 into a mortar or spice grinder (or clean coffee grinder). add the coriander seed and the peppercorns and grind them to a coarse powder. the smell as you grind will convince you that there is much to be missed in buying ready ground spices. peel the ginger and cut it into thin, matchstick-like shards. stir it into the onion along with the sliced garlic, turmeric and spices. peel and seed the tomatoes and add them to the pan. rinse the aubergines of their salt and pat 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 as you go, so that they are cooked on both sides, removing them as they are ready and replacing them with another batch. add them to the onions, then pour in the stock, bring it to boil, then add the coconut milk, chilli, a little salt and continue cooking for about 45 minutes at a simmer. the aubergines should be very soft and silky but not actually falling apart.
lift out the aubergine, tomato and some of the onion with a draining spoon. reduce rest of the sauce by boiling hard for 5 minutes or so. now ladle most, but not all of the sauce into a blender and blitz till smooth and thick. (take care to cover the top with a cloth before you turn it on, the sauce is very hot.) return the aubergines and the sauce to the pot then chop the mint and coriander leaves and stir them in together with a final seasoning of salt and black pepper. serve with rice.