My greengrocer sells aubergines in different sizes in uncertain piles, each as glossy as wet paint. Removing the one you want is like playing vegetable Jenga.
I like my aubergines baked until they are on the verge of being overcooked. So silky soft, so chubby, so melting, they are almost more olive oil than eggplant. And let’s face it, without olive oil, there is very little meaning to this vegetable (fruit to pedantic). Baked or grilled, I cook them with the skin on – and eat them too. I only occasionally take the peeler to them, but they look elegant without their skins, sprinkled with lemon zest and parsley or in a pool of their own bronze baking juice.
You can brown them in oil and then braise them with ginger, garlic, cumin and turmeric, add a little water or vegetable stock and sprinkle them with their own thin, aromatic juice. Sweetened with honey and sultanas, they are great for yogurt. Check it with shredded cucumber and chopped pistachios if you wish. This way of cooking them, with spices, water and covered with lids, promotes a silky texture without emptying your olive oil bottle.
I also got the cake tins out this week. I could have used individual bun molds or paper cake molds, but chose individual bundle molds instead. These are the only fancy cake tins I have, but I love them for their swirling lines, deep combs, and depressions that hold frost puddles of citrus-scented icing. I covered them with thin, almost transparent icing sharpened with lemon juice that gives just the right amount of sweetness to a plain, moist cake.
Slow-cooked eggplant with yogurt and cucumber
Start the recipe with 100 ml of oil, add an additional amount, up to 50 ml, if the aubergines become dry.
Serves 4 as a main course with rice
aubergines 750 g (3, medium to small)
olive oil 100-150ml, plus a little more
ginger 50 g, fresh
garlic 2 cloves
salt flakes ½ tsk
black peppercorns ½ tsp, crushed
ground turmeric 1 tsp
ground cinnamon 1 tsp
honey 2 tbsp
golden sultanas 50 g
mint leaves 2 tbsp
dried rose petals 2 tsp
For the yoghurt sauce:
yogurt 100 g
cucumber 200 g
mint leaves 6, plus 2 tbsp for garnish
red chili 1
pistachios 2 tbsp
Peel the aubergines and cut them in half, top and bottom. Cut each half into 3 thick pieces.
Heat 100 ml olive oil in a wide, low saucepan over moderate heat. I use one with a 24 cm bottom. Place as many eggplant pieces, with the cutting side down, as there is room in the pan, and let them cook until golden on the underside, about 4-5 minutes. Keep the heat quite high, turn each piece with kitchen tongs and let the other side color. Loosen them with a palette knife while cooking so they do not stick. It may be necessary to top up oil from time to time. Eggplants drink a lot. Remove them as they become ready and replace with the rest of the aubergines.
Peel the ginger, cut it into thin slices and then cut it into matchstick-sized pieces. Arrow and crush the garlic. When all the aubergines are golden and taken off the pan, lower the heat a little, ginger and garlic are added followed by salt, pepper, turmeric and cinnamon. Let the spices simmer for a minute while stirring regularly – they must not burn on – then pour in 600 ml of water, turn up the heat and bring to a boil.
Put the aubergines back in the pan, lower the heat to a boiling point, partially cover with a lid – you just want a crack so the steam escapes – and cook until they are really silky soft and tender. Check and flip them from time to time, but they should take about 25-30 minutes. They should be so soft that you can crush them between finger and thumb. Keep an eye on the fluid level.
For the sauce, place the yogurt in a bowl, peel and cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, scrape out and discard the seeds, then grate the meat roughly and stir in the yogurt. Grate the mint leaves, chop the chili finely and chop the pistachios roughly and turn it all into the yoghurt.
Remove the aubergines in a serving dish, then stir the honey and sultanas into the cooking juice. Turn up the heat, let the sauce reduce a little, and then season with a little salt, pepper or honey as you wish (remember, you must eat it with the yoghurt (remember that you eat it with the yoghurt sauce) Sprinkle mint leaves and rose petals Serve with yogurt and rice.
Orange and almond bundle cakes
You will need six individual cans, but if you prefer, use deep paper cake boxes. Do 6
butter 200g, plus a little for the cans
caster sugar 200 g
orange 1, small
peeled almonds 100 g
self-raising flour 100g, plus some for the cans
For the glaze:
icing sugar 85 g
lemon juice 2 tbsp
birches 2 tsp
Set the oven to 180C / gas mark 4. Prepare the cake tins by melting a little extra butter, brushing it over the inside of the tins and sprinkling them lightly with flour. Turn the cans upside down and shake lightly to remove excess flour.
Mix butter and sugar together in a food mixer until pale and fluffy. Grate finely and add orange and lemon peel. Grind the almonds to a coarse powder in a food processor and then stir in the flour. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat thoroughly with a fork.
When the butter and sugar are well creamy, add the flour-almond mixture and the beaten eggs alternately and a little at a time while constantly whipping. Mix lightly but thoroughly and then pour into the cake tins, smoothing the surface gradually.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cakes have risen. Test with a spear. Take it out of the oven and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Turn out onto a rack.
For the icing, sift the icing sugar in a small bowl, squeeze the lemon juice in and mix to a smooth icing approx. consistency like double cream. It should fall quite slowly from the spoon – too thin, and it slips off the cakes.
Drizzle the icing over the cakes, sprinkle poppy seeds on top and let it set in a cool place.
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