My favorite color is purple. Not pink, not blue, but something in between (although leaning towards blue). It’s just such a lovely color – cheerful, without garishness of orange, and serene, without monotone boredom of pure blue. Some of my favorite vegetables and fruits come in that color. Like beets. I often wonder whether I like beets because they are purple, or I like the color purple because that’s the color of beets. Probably a bit of both. (On a side note, not everyone may know but beets also come in bright yellow hue which make a very pretty salad when combined with blood oranges and green arugula. The yellow variety however is not as widely available as purple.)
Other food contenders for the “purple” award include purple cabbage (delicious when braised in wine and spices), purple carrots (makes beautiful salads), purple artichokes (intimidating, but heavenly when cooked properly), plums, grapes, figs, basil, as well as less known purple varieties of cauliflower, paprika, asparagus, potatoes, beans, and other deliciousness. Of course the list would not be complete without an aubergine (known less poetically in US as eggplant).
Aubergines sometimes remind me of myself, or more precisely, of my character. They have a relatively thick, protective skin; they seem to grow well anywhere from North America to Europe to Asia; they are often ignored on store shelves, outshined by neighboring tomatoes and paprikas. It does not help that people also tend to find them difficult to deal with, and, most importantly, call them vegetables when they are really fruits, or more precisely, berries! We’ve come to think of fruits as something that is consumed raw, often in the peak of summer, straight from a tree or a bush (or a plastic container). It’s no wonder poor aubergine gets no recognition as its pretty much inedible in its raw form – tasteless and bitter.
However, with just a little bit of love (as well as heat and patience), it can be transformed into velvety-smooth heap of juicy, tender flesh with complex, smoky flavor. You should try and see for yourself. Just get an aubergine, pierce it with a fork in few places (don’t skip this step unless you want an explosion in your oven), and bake it for one hour at 180C/375F. No salt, pepper, or oil needed. Aubergine will take care of itself, if you leave it alone for sufficient time. Once an hour is up, wait for it to cool for 10 minutes, then simply peel the skin off using your fingers. The flesh can be then blended with tahini and lemon juice to make a tasty spread, mixed with roasted peppers (paprikas) and tomatoes to make a ratatouille, or, simply eaten straight off the chopping board (my favorite).
Another simple way to use them is to make sandwiches. I don’t mean using aubergine slices as a filling (although that also works really well), but instead, use them to replace bread. For example, in this ‘panini’ recipe, aubergines are pressed around a filling of fresh spinach and feta. One average-size aubergine makes three thin panini or two thick (two-tiered) panini. I decided to go for the thin ones and before the thought of saving one for next day’s lunch crossed my mind, all three have melted away in my mouth. Oops. By the way, baking aubergines in slices produces less juicy effect compared to roasting them whole, but you can compensate by adding a bit of olive oil. I use oil sparingly since I prefer my aubergine to crisp up around the edges. If you are a lucky owner of a grill pan or a panini press, you can skip the oil and the oven and achieve superior results in half the time.
-1 elongated aubergine
-2 handfuls of fresh spinach or arugula (washed and dried)
-3 to 4 thin slices of fresh feta, crumbled
-1 tbsp tapenade (black olive paste)
-1 tbsp olive oil
-1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
– 1 tsp herbs de provence or dried oregano
Wash and dry aubergine, cut off and discard both ends, and slice horizontally (lengthwise) into six pieces. Rub the olive oil on one side of each slice, arrange on a baking tray (I line mine with foil for easy cleanup), sprinkle with dried spices, and put into pre-heated oven at 180C/375F for 15 minutes. While you wait, do some yoga or at least stretch! When 15 minutes are up, carefully flip the slices on the other side and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Bake for another 10 minutes. Remove, flip over again, spread tapenade on three of the slices, arrange spinach on top, followed by cheese and the remaining three slices. Bake for another 5 minutes until cheese has warmed through and the greens are slightly wilted. Remove and enjoy hot or cold.