Aubergines - How to cook and grow

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Best known as a staple of the Mediterranean diet, aubergines are commonly used in Indian, Caribbean and South-East Asian cookery. Also known as eggplant and pea aubergine they are a versatile vegetable that varies in shape, size and colour.

How to Grow
Aubergines grow best in a greenhouse or polytunnel where consistent high temperatures and humidity are required for plenty of fruit. Sow the seeds in trays in early spring in a warm place or propagator. I pot mine on into three-inch pots and then into grow bags in the polytunnel. Make sure the plants are supported and water regularly. Like chillies, the flowering heads benefit from a light spray of water to encourage pollination. I leave four fruits on each plant and check regularly for dead leaves. Harvest the fruits when the skin is shiny, avoid touching the green leaf and stem, which is unpleasant to the touch.

How to Cook
I was always taught to salt sliced aubergine before cooking to extract the bitterness but I find this unnesscecary with today’s modern varieties. Do not prepare too far in advance as they do discolour, some recommend rubbing with lemon juice to prevent this but I disagree. Aubergines react to liquids like a sponge and by adding lemon juice at an early stage you are only adding bitterness. Lightly fry the sliced fruit in oil and then set aside whilst the sauce is finished. Aubergines are excellent in a variety of curries, as part of a Provencal ratatouille, thinly sliced and fried until crisp for a Greek salad or braised with chickpeas and spinach with Moroccan spices and dried fruits.

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Content and picture © Miles Collins