Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Eggplant Saga: Aubergine Origins

One of my labmates does her research in greenhouses and one of the plants she is using in her current experiment is the noble eggplant. It just so happens that last week all her plants produced copious amounts of fruit, and I ended up coming home with 9 eggplants. I wasn't exactly sure what I would do with all these eggplants, but if I didn't take them, they would have gone in the compost, and how could I allow free fruit to go to waste? I had to at least try.

I usually only buy eggplant for one of two purposes: ratatouille or baba ghanoush. I have already made these, both were delicious, and I still have 7 eggplants in my fridge. I soon knew this would be a challenge that would take me on an epic adventure through the cosmopolitan world of the aubergine, and that I would emerge with a full belly, and collection of new and (hopefully) delicious recipes.

Part 1: Aubergine Origins
I began my quest by exploring the origins of the eggplant. The plant Solanum melongena L. is native to India. It belongs to the family Solanaceae, aka the nightshade family, which includes other delicious and nutritious foods such as tomatoes, potatoes and peppers, as well as some more malevolent plants such as tobacco and deadly nightshade.

Factoid - eggplants have the highest nicotine content of all vegetables (owing to it's relation to tobacco), though you would need to consume 20 pounds of it to equal one cigarette.

The plant was domesticated thousands of years ago in what is now India and Pakistan. The Indian name for aubergine is "brinjal", and it is an important ingredient in Indian cooking.
Vegetarianism is common in India thanks to the influence of the dharmic religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism) that teach non-violence. In honour of the ancient origins of the eggplant, the first recipe I'll post is for East-Indian Brinjal.

What you'll need:
1 medium/large eggplant
1 medium onion
3 medium tomatoes
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cinnamon
salt & cayenne to taste*
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup cilantro

*I like my food spicy, so I used about 1/2 tsp. of cayenne, which I found to be just the right amount for me. It had heat but was far from overpowering.

Chop the eggplant, onion and tomato, and saute in a bit of oil for a couple of minutes on high heat. Add the spices (except cilantro).
At the same time as the spices, add the water, you may need to add more as the liquid reduces. Cover and simmer about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is a delicious stewy mush. Sprinkle chopped cilantro and serve.

I served mine with the "jade rice" blend I picked up from Bulk Barn this afternoon, though it would be equally delicious with some ordinary basmati rice. This dish is lightly spiced allowing the flavour of the eggplant to shine.
To be continued....

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