Chris has, without fail, consistently claimed that he hates aubergines because they taste like “boiled snot”. I have to admit that I know what he means – there is a way of cooking aubergines that can leave them slimy and with a strange aftertaste that isn’t particularly pleasant. In fact, as a child I really wasn’t fond of aubergines, but then I seemed to dislike most things that were particularly squishy for several years through my childhood. On the same list were ripe bananas and over-ripe pears. Anything that would turn to slimy or mushy pulp in my mouth.
With adulthood has come a new respect for aubergines. I’ve had them served up in some really interesting ways and I’ve really wanted to play about with cooking them. I’ve known that aubergines don’t have to be that “boiled snot” texture that happens if you boil them in a casserole for hours, but I just couldn’t convince Chris.
The other week, I finally bit the bullet and decided to just cook some anyway. I put plenty of other food on the table so that, if he chose, Chris could avoid the aubergine entirely, but I put plenty of thought into cooking something that would keep the aubergine quite firm.
The recipe below came from the BBC, although I left out the spring onions, because I didn’t have any, and I felt that yes, it could maybe have benefitted from something extra to lighten up the ricotta cheese flavour. I’ve also altered the mozzarella/ricotta ratio because the ricotta was so overpoweringly strong in flavour that it blotted out everything else on the plate.
To his credit, Chris tried a couple of rolls and found that the aubergine wasn’t as bad as he might have expected. I felt I’d really made progress when he elected to have seconds, although he didn’t make it all the way through his second helping, mostly from ricotta overload. As a result I am now commencing on a few weeks of aubergine recipes – the Aubergine Files – to see what other aubergine creations I can entice Chris to eat. He may not like them all, he may not love any of them, but at least it will have opened his eyes to the fact that aubergines don’t always have to be slimy.
Aubergine recipes that avoid boiling them in a liquid (and thus making them slimy) invariably involve cheese – the flavour of cheese tends to compliment the slightly bitter aubergine very well. I make no apology for the fact that this series of recipes which centre around the aubergine may subsequently be more primal than paleo. My use of the term “primal” works on the basis that those in the primal community are often a little less anti-cheese. It is worth noting though that even people in the paleo community are starting to accept that dairy, for some people, is an acceptable food and that exclusion of dairy very much depends on personal factors including your goals (bulking or cutting), personal reactions to lactose and casein and specific health issues (certain health issues flare up again for some people if they reintroduce dairy).
Are you an aubergine lover or hater?
Ingredients (serves 2-3 as a side dish):
olive oil to brush over the aubergine
100g mozzarella, torn into small pieces
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 spring onion, finely chopped
4tbsp olive oil
250g cherry tomatoes, halved or medium tomatoes (2 should be about right), chopped into similar sized chunks
1 clove garlic, crushed
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Slice the aubergine lengthways into 0.5cm/ ¼ inch thick slices. Lay out on some kitchen paper, salt liberally on one side, turn and salt on the second side. Leave to stand on one side for about 20 mins while some of the water drains out of the slices.
- Once the aubergines have drained a little, rinse the salt off under cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Next brush them with oil on both sides and place on a hot griddle pan (the easiest way to do this it to brush one side, place them oil-side down on the griddle pan and then brush the other side while the first side cooks). You will probably need to do this in batches. I got 8 slices from a medium-sized aubergine and could only fit 3 slices on my pan.
- Griddle the slices for a couple of minutes on each side, not moving them while they griddle, until there are golden-brown griddle marks on the slices. The slices should soften up a little, making them a bit more malleable, but you don’t want them cooked through and squishy – I would turn/remove them as soon as the griddle lines are nice and bold. Once done, place the slices on kitchen paper to drain.
- Meanwhile, heat the 4tbsp olive oil into a pan and then add the tomatoes. Simmer the tomatoes for 8-10 mins until the tomatoes start to break down.
- To make the filling, mix together the ricotta, mozzarella, nutmeg and spring onions in a bowl.
- When the aubergine slices are all cooked, place a teaspoon of the cheese filling at one end of each slice and roll it up. If the griddle marks are better on one side than the other, make sure the better marks are face down on the board/plate so that they are on the outside once you’ve rolled up the aubergine.
- Stir the garlic into the tomato mixture and then pour half this mixture into an ovenproof dish and place the rolls, seam-side down, into the dish on top of the tomatoes. Pour the remaining tomato mixture over the top of the rolls and bake in the oven for 15 mins until the cheese starts to melt.