There's a smart little paperback by Nicholas Glee, called Don't Sweat the Aubergine: What Works in the Kitchen and Why, that I love. It's trying to de-mystify various kitchen conundrums - to wash the rice or not before cooking? to sweat the aubergine/eggplant with salt first? do you simmer your stock for 1, 2,6 or 10 hours? and such like. But it was the title that intrigued me enough to actually order the book. You see, most of the recipes using aubergines ask to salt, rinse and dry the aubergine before cooking. There are two major explanations for that. Explanation 1: apparently it eliminates the bitterness in aubergine - but then most 'modern' aubergines aren't bitter to start with. Explanation 2: it helps NOT to soak up too much oil afterwards. Mr Glee isn't convinced. Neither does he buy into Delia Smith's explanation that salting concentrates the flavour. He does recommend simply cutting up the aubergine, tossing with oil, salt and pepper and roasting them in the oven. Nice...
But here's a much better way to treat aubergines, trust me. In this recipe for 'juicy stewed eggplant' adapted from St Gregory's Church's fundrising cookbook Adventures in Armenian Cooking the aubergines are added to a simple tomato sauce. The aubergines soak up the seasoned tomato sauce (healthy, virtually fat-free), and emerge half an hour later being meltingly soft and tender, with plenty of flavour. It is equally delicious when freshly cooked, but is an extremely satisfying when eaten cool hours or even a day or two later.
The stew is seasoned with dried herbs - basil & mint in this case. The use of dried mint as a seasoning is especially widespread in Armenia, alongside cumin, barberries and various fresh herbs. Whereas the cuisines of the Caucasus area are typically quite meat-heavy, then Armenians also love their fruit, vegetables and salads. You can read more about Armenian cuisine here, here or here.
Armenian Aubergine Stew
about 500 grams aubergine (I used 3 smaller ones), cut into small chunks
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red or green bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled (optional)
2 Tbsp olive oil
400 grams crushed tomatoes or 500 grams tomato passata
0.5 tsp dried basil
0.5 tsp dried mint
coarsely ground black pepper
200-300 ml boiling water
fresh basil or/and mint, to garnish
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add onion and bell pepper and fry gently for about 5 minutes, until they start to soften. Add whole garlic cloves, season with basil, mint, salt and pepper. Saute for another few minutes.
Now add tomatoes (either crushed tomatoes or tomato passata), aubergine chunks and hot water. Give it a stir, then simmer on a low heat for about 30 minutes, until aubergine is meltingly soft, but still holds its shape. Stir every now and then, adding more water, if the stew looks too dry.
Season to taste, garnish with fresh herbs and serve.
This is also my entry for the Vegetarian Awareness Month event hosted by Margot of Coffee & Vanilla.