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Purple reign: eggplant recipes

Eggplants are fantastic at soaking up flavours - but also the oil in which they are cooked. These recipes bring out only the best of the 'vegetable'

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jason Joseph Bonello / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

The eggplant is one of my favourite vegetables (although, botanically, it's a fruit). I love the way it absorbs the flavour of whatever it's cooked with. What's not good is its ability to really soak up oil, but with these recipes, that's not something you need to worry about.

Eggplant stuffed with lamb, feta and pomegranate seeds (pictured)
For this dish, I prefer to use short (about 10cm long) Italian eggplants, because they are fatter and deeper and therefore hold more filling, but if only long Chinese eggplants are available, they'll work well too.

2-3 small Italian eggplants (or 16cm-long Chinese eggplants)
Olive oil, as needed
1 small onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp ground cinnamon
A pinch of ground cloves
250 grams minced lamb
200 grams tomatoes, chopped (I use the small oval, local tomatoes)
50 grams tomato paste
20 grams pine nuts, lightly toasted
A small handful of Italian parsley, finely chopped
100 grams feta cheese, crumbled into small pieces
About 30 grams freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pomegranate seeds, as needed

Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon to scoop out some of the eggplant flesh, leaving a shell about 1cm thick. Finely chop the flesh. Lay the eggplant shells cut-side up in a lightly oiled baking dish (if needed, cut a thin slice from the bottom part of the eggplant, where it touches the dish, so it doesn't wobble). Use a pastry brush to coat the eggplants with some of the olive oil, brushing it lightly over the outside, and more liberally over the exposed flesh. Lightly sprinkle salt over the eggplants.

Heat 30ml of olive oil in a skillet, add the onion and garlic and cook over a low flame until soft. Turn the heat to medium, add the cinnamon and cloves and stir for about 30 seconds. Add the minced lamb, chopped eggplant and a light sprinkling of salt. Break up the meat with a spoon then cook it until it loses its pink colour. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is moist but without excess liquid seeping out of it. Add the pine nuts, chopped parsley, feta, 30 grams of grated parmesan and some black pepper. Mix thoroughly then taste for seasoning, adding salt, if needed.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Spoon the meat mixture into the cavities of the eggplant, mounding it slightly. Drizzle a little olive oil over the filled eggplants then sprinkle with some grated parmesan. Cover the dish with aluminium foil and bake for about 30 to 45 minutes, or until the eggplant is tender. Remove the foil and bake for about 10 more minutes, to lightly brown the surface. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds then serve.

Eggplant with minced pork and salted fish

About 100ml cooking oil, divided
600 grams Chinese eggplants
A small boneless piece of moist salted fish, about 2.5cm square and 1cm thick
200 grams minced pork
15ml soy sauce
15ml rice wine
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
A pinch of ground white pepper
1 slightly heaped tsp cornstarch
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Chilli paste, to taste
1 or 2 spring onions, minced

Put the pork in a bowl and add 10ml of cooking oil, the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, pepper and cornstarch. Mix thoroughly then set aside for 15 minutes. Soak the salted fish in warm water for 15 minutes, then drain it and pat dry. Cut the fish into small cubes. Cut the eggplants into pieces about 4cm long and 1cm thick.

Heat a wok over a high flame then add 30ml of cooking oil. When the oil is very hot, add half the eggplant and stir-fry until it starts to soften. If it sticks to the wok drizzle in a little more oil. Transfer the eggplant to a large bowl, then heat more oil in the wok and cook the remaining eggplant the same way. When it's ready, put it in the same bowl.

Heat 30ml of cooking oil in the wok set over a high flame, add the salted fish and cook until it starts to brown lightly. Add the pork and garlic and stir-fry until the meat loses its pink colour. Put the eggplant back into the wok and add a spoonful (or more) of chilli paste. Stir in about 80ml of water then turn the heat to low and cover the wok with the lid. Simmer the ingredients, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is tender. If the mixture seems dry, add more water. Taste the ingredients and add more chilli paste, salt and/or sugar to balance the flavours. Stir in the spring onion then transfer the mixture to a bowl and serve immediately, with steamed white rice.

 

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