To Brits they’re the exotic aubergine, to Americans and Australians the eggplant and to Indians and Sri Lankans the brinjal – most think it’s a vegetable but it’s actually a berry, and you’ll find it in an array of global cuisines, for good reason.
Native to India and Sri Lanka, aubergines have been cultivated around the world and come in many different varieties: in Europe and North America the most recognised is the large, oval-shaped pendulous type with deep purple skin; in Asia and India a wide range is available – expect to find round ones, long, slim ones – as well as miniature varieties – in white, yellow, green and shades of purple. Others are two-tone, some are striped.
It was once believed that aubergines, like tomatoes, potatoes and chilli peppers, were poisonous because they belong to the nightshade family; some people do have a bad reaction to eating these foods, but most suffer no ill effects.
Aubergines are actually botanically classed as a berry, not a vegetable; they contain many small, edible seeds, which have a slightly bitter taste. They thrive in the sun, so they available all year in Sri Lanka but the best European crop appears in August.
Aubergine dishes are often associated with warmer climes; they feature heavily in Indian and North African cooking. The meaty, creamy flesh has proved so versatile that it appears in many other cuisines and it makes a great staple for vegetarian dishes. Famous aubergine dishes include ratatouille (France), moussaka (Greece), and baba ghanoush (Middle East).
Nutritional content and health benefits
Aubergines are a good source of fibre, folic acid and potassium. The skin contains anthocyanins, which are high in antioxidants, which can help the body fight off illness. Research also shows them to be effective in treating high levels of cholesterol. On the down side natural health practioners believe they can aggravate arthritis.
Choosing and cooking aubergines
Choose aubergines that feel weighty, with smooth, blemish-free skin and unwithered green stalks. They bruise easily so should be transported with care, and will keep in the fridge or a cool dark place for a few days.
You have probably heard it is recommended to salt aubergines before cooking to remove excess moisture and reduce their often-bitter taste; this isn’t as necessary as it once was – modern aubergines are less bitter but salting can help to reduce the generous amount of oil aubergines absorb during the cooking process.
To salt, cut into thick slices, sprinkle liberally with good quality salt and stand in a colander for 30 minutes, then rinse thoroughly and pat dry with kitchen towel.
Aubergines are great barbecued, fried, griddled and roasted. Here is a great aubergine/brinjal sandwich recipe!
See below for an authentic Sri Lankan recipe.
- Aubergines are known by Americans, Canadians, Australians and Kiwis as eggplants because some 18th century varieties that settlers cultivated were round and white, resembling birds’ eggs.
- Aubergines contain more nicotine than any other foodstuff; however, you would have to eat 20lbs (about 10 kilogrammes) in one sitting to have the same effect as one cigarette.
- Globally, more than 4 million acres are used to cultivate aubergines.
Recipe – Sri Lankan Brinjal Moju (Aubergine accompaniment (like a spicy pickle) to Rice & Curry)
- 5 medium aubergines – cut into strips (like chips/french fries)
- 3-5 bombay onions or 10 small red onions or 10 shallots
- 3-5 small green chillies- diagonally cut in the middle (depends on your HEAT tolerance!)
- 10 cloves of finely chopped (or ground) garlic
- Ginger (about a two inch piece – ground)
- 2 tbsp of crushed dried red chillies
- 1/3 cup of vinegar (any)
- 3 tsp of black mustard seed (ground)
- 3-4 full tsp sugar (according to taste)
- 2 sprigs of curry leaves
- 2 cloves (ground)
- Salt to taste
- Oil to deep fry (for an authentic Sri Lankan taste use coconut oil but less accustomed palates may prefer vegetable oil)
- Mix a tsp of salt and turmeric powder to the aubergine strips and let the mixture marinate for about 30 mins. Heat oil to deep fry the strips until golden brown and crispy. Drain off the oil and keep aside.
- Fry the onions or shallots for about 2 mins and then fry the green chillies for about 30 seconds, drain and keep aside.
- Saute crushed red chillies for 15 seconds and fry curry leaves for about 15 seconds, drain and keep all fried stuff aside.
- Mix the ground garlic, ginger, mustard, cloves and sugar together with the vinegar and boil for 1 and 1/2 minutes until the sugar is dissolved.
- Take the mixture off the cooker and mix the rest of the fried items and add salt to taste. Mix well.
- Let it cool.
- Tip: This tastes better the next day!!