Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Mellowed with Age; Once upon a Time, Aubergines Were Bitter. This Is No Longer True

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Mellowed with Age; Once upon a Time, Aubergines Were Bitter. This Is No Longer True

Article excerpt

Aubergines are the ideal vegetable-fruit, if you wish to be pedantic--for early autumn. They remind you of the summer, while offering a creamy texture that brings comfort as the sunlight mellows and the nights draw in. A pile of plump aubergines, glowing purple where the light catches them, is an irresistible sight.

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An aubergine I cooked in France last month was a sumptuous reminder that so many of its counterparts on sale in Britain are meagre in flavour. Perhaps greenhouses are to blame. My outdoor-grown, French aubergine was rich and meaty. Eating it was like regaining taste following a cold--the gustatory equivalent of hearing equivalent of hearing clearly after one's ears have been syringed.

My French aubergine required no special advance treatment--no sprinkling with salt, or soaking in salted water-to attain its melting consistency. So why do so many cookery writers insist that pre-salting is essential? It is a question that continues to trouble me, even though three years ago I wrote a book that referred in its title to the unnecessary nature of the operation.

The latest reference I have come across is in Indian Takeaway by Hardeep Singh Kohli, who describes an unusual twist on the technique: if I understand him correctly, you lop off the stem end of the aubergine, pile salt on to the exposed surface, and press the stem back on. The transformation in flavour that this procedure triggers, after just ten minutes or so, is "unbelievable", he says. …

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