By Louise Liebenberg
WHEN it starts getting to the end of summer I find few food displays more beautiful than the huge piles of glossy brinjals you’ll see in the markets and on some supermarket shelves.
I’ve always found the intense purple colour of brinjal alluring; magical almost, and as a child so fancied the fruit (which botanically is classified as a berry) that I had a cranky Shetland pony by the same name.
Save for a period when my food-fanatic father seriously overdid his use of brinjal – including adding it to his Bolognaise or swapping recipes for sticky-sweet preserved baby brinjals with our Greek friends down the road, I’ve been a life-long fan.
Being married to a man with Latin roots added to the fascination, as brinjal – also known as aubergine or eggplant – is a Mediterranean staple that stars in dishes as varied as Greek moussaka, Turkish imam bayildi and French ratatouille.
Interestingly, however, brinjal is native to India and has been grown in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory.
The earliest written records of the fruit is actually from China, a country which today is also its largest producer.
And, because no ancient European records – or even names – for brinjal exist, it is believed it was only introduced to the Mediterranean by the Arabs in the early Middle Ages, after which its use in the area exploded.
Another interesting fact is that, as a member of the nightshade family, brinjal is closely related to the tomato and potato and, wait for it, tobacco! This prompted some cultures to believe brinjal was poisonous, which is not the case.
Also, many people still go through the ritual of “degorging” brinjal by sprinkling the slices with salt and leaving them to sweat a bit so as to counteract the fruit’s inherent bitterness.
This, I have learnt, is largely a pointless exercise nowadays, as most (if not all) of the brinjal varieties available in South Africa (and indeed in many parts of the world) have since been selectively cultivated not to have that characteristic bitterness any more.
Scroll down below for a delicious brinjal pasta sauce recipe that Salvelio dreamed up for us the other day!
Brinjal Pasta – The Recipe
The brinjal in this dish comes out especially creamy because it is deep-fried separately from the rest of the sauce, before everything is amalgamated. It also helps to keep the shape of the brinjal without everything becoming a mushy mess. Salvelio says you can also keep the brinjal in slices and serve the dish as a vegetable side dish or even a vegetarian main course with other accompaniments. The tomato chutney (we buy the Woolworths one in the jar) adds a delicious hint of sweetness but if you don’t have it just add 1/2 tsp of sugar to the mix.
Serves 2 to 3
1 medium-sized brinjal, sliced and quartered; flour for dusting; 1 onion, chopped; 2 fat cloves of garlic, chopped; 1 red pepper, diced; 1/2 punnet of mushrooms, sliced; olive oil for frying; sunflower oil for deep-frying; 2 tomatoes, peeled and diced; 1 Tbsp tomato chutney; 1 tsp balsamic vinegar; 1/2 tsp of sugar (if not using the chutney); salt and pepper for seasoning; a small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped; pasta for serving – spaghetti is a nice option.
Fry the onion, garlic and red pepper in olive oil till they start to soften slightly; add the mushrooms and then the tomatoes, frying for a bit more before adding the tomato chutney and balsamic vinegar. Season to taste. In the meantime you will dust the brinjal with a bit of flour before deep-frying in the hot sunflower oil until golden. Drain well, then gently fold into the rest of the sauce. You can also in the meantime get your pasta going, cooking until al dente and draining and rinsing before serving with the sauce. Top with the parsley and serve.