On his 1987 album “The Art of Tea”, Michael Franks – the singer who single-handley provided the floating soundtrack to my late teens – confessed to his fascination for a woman who could cook an eggplant about 19 different ways:
Maybe its the way she grates her cheese,
Or just the freckles on her knees.
Maybe its the scallions. Maybe she’s Italian.
I can’t reveal her name but Eggplant is her game.
The glorious appeal of this purple fruit is only just beginning to dawn on me, a latecomer to the aubergine scene. As a child, growing up in Zimbabwe, we called it by its more colonial name, “Brinjal”.
Perhaps something in my young palate discerned that the crisp, fried slices of mauve edged vegetable in the moussaka were close cousins of the deadly nightshade. Maybe I just didn’t like the way it soaked up any grease available. Whatever it was, I didn’t take to it. It always seemed a tragedy to me, however, that such a beautiful, shiny and richly coloured plant should not taste as good as it looked.
It is only in recent weeks, as I have been getting a huge, shining aubergine every wednesday in our Farmaround bag, that I have been learning to love it and wishing I could drop in on Micheal Franks’ freckle-kneed friend for some cooking tips.
“Raw with mayonnaise” is the only hint given in the song of the 19 different ways to cook an eggplant. That is a good start. I have tried a few more but I am a long way off 19:
- Raw: Yes, I believe this is one of the best ways to go. Keeping those nutrients intact and slicing it up to eat alone with a dash of worcester sauce, mayo, or salt and pepper.
- Ratatouille: It used to be a boring side dish in my house but if I get the seasoning right and it blows my mind. There are so many variants of this dish worth trying but most agree it should be slowly cooked. In my opinion it is even better a day later, cold, on toast.
- Oven Roasted: With a medley of other seasonal veg like onions and squash – salt,pepper, dash of olive oil, in a pan, roasty-roasty, lovely, serve on a bed of couscous.
- Grilled: Slice them up longwise like “minute steaks” and grill with a bit of seasoning.
I would love any further suggestions for ways to prepare aubergine but have one thought in closing. Yesterday, as I sliced into my aubergine, I thought I saw some sort of pattern in the arrangement of the seeds. Ancient soothsayers used to read a great deal into these patterns. I could not make out anything very specific, maybe the shape of a bird’s wing, certainly nothing as obvious as Marisa McClellan’s Divine Eggplant. I wondered what it might be trying to say to me, nevertheless.
Maybe I was just reaching out for the mystical union we are all looking for with the things we eat, a fusion of physical and spiritual appetites?
Here’s a Youtube video of Michael Franks singing “Eggplant”.