In Season Ripe Aubergines

Best in season: Aubergines3 minute read

Eating in season is good for you, good for your wallet and good for the planet!

Familiarising yourself with what’s in season is also a subtle and satisfying way of reconnecting with nature, especially if you live in a town or city. Noticing the different produce on offer will give you a greater awareness of nature’s cycles—and an enhanced appreciation of fresh, whole, delicious food.

Aubergines (otherwise known as eggplants) are available year-round, but they’re at their best from May until October—so pick up a prime specimen while you still can!

WHAT ARE THEY?

A celebrated vegetable in many cuisines—from Thai curry to Greek moussaka—it’s surprising to learn aubergines aren’t, in fact, vegetables. They’re a type of berry.

We know that aubergines have been cultivated in China since the 5th century BC—but not for eating. Early varieties were so bitter that they aroused suspicion, with some believing that eating aubergine could cause insanity, leprosy and cancer.

As the centuries rolled on, the aubergine spread to the West, but it was generally used as a decorative garden plant. It wasn’t until the 18th century that less bitter varieties were developed, and they were soon cropping up in a host of dishes.

WHY SHOULD I EAT THEM?

Times have moved on, and we now (thankfully) know that aubergines aren’t going to give us leprosy. In fact, they promote good health in a variety of ways:

Fighting inflammation. The purple skin of aubergines contains a potent antioxidant called nasunin. Not only can nasunin help quench inflammation in the body, but it also protects our DNA [1].

Supporting heart health. One animal study revealed that regular intake of aubergines increased function in the left ventricle (one of the chambers) of the heart. This supports blood flow all around the body, enabling both oxygen and nutrients to get where they need [2].

Promoting regular digestion. Aubergines are full of fibre and water, both of which are essential for regular bowel movements and a healthy gut. Sometimes the simplest benefits are the most powerful! [3].

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING AUBERGINES?

Firstly, look at the skin. A fresh aubergine should be smooth, glossy and blemish-free, and its stalk should be bright green.

Next, pick it up. Give it a quick squeeze to check that it’s firm, and pop it in one hand to see how it feels. A ripe aubergine is dense and heavy.

Fortunately, aubergines are the on the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Clean 15’ list, which means they’re less likely to be contain pesticide residues. It’s therefore not essential to buy organic versions (unless, of course, you prefer to).

Aubergines perish quickly when cut, so keep them whole in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.

HOW CAN I PREPARE THEM?

Aubergines’ sponge-like texture means they’re a great vehicle for other flavours. Try them in the following:

In lasagne. For a lighter lasagne, replace the pasta sheets with aubergine. Cut an aubergine into 0.5cm-thick slices, brush with oil, and roast for 20 minutes. Layer them between the meat mixture and béchamel sauce as normal.  This creates a delicious lasagne-moussaka hybrid!

As a dip. For a quick baba ganoush, blend 1 roasted aubergine with 1 clove garlic, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp tahini and 1.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Serve with fresh crudités.

As a side dish. For an easy take on ratatouille, dice 1 aubergine, 2 peppers, 2 red onions, 1 courgette and peel a couple of garlic cloves. Mix them together, drizzle in extra virgin olive oil, and roast at 170˚C until the vegetables have started to caramelise. This goes brilliantly with fish.

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