Aubergines


Aubergines. What do you mean, "aubergines?!?!?"

First of all, an apology: I’ve been loafing around on foreign beaches for a few weeks and have consequently been a little lax in updating the blog. Thank you, however, to those of you who have emailed – in your thousands! – expressing concern for the silence and frustration at the lack of epicurean bons mots to help you through the humdrum existence of your lives.

Panic over. I am back!

And what better way to celebrate than with a cake? Chocolate, of course. So without further ado, and while Mrs Drooling struggles to load four suitcases of lightly soiled clothes into the dishwasher, to the kitchen!

Unfortunately post-holiday supplies have not been replenished, and there is no butter in the fridge. And no sugar in the cupboard. Could cause a few problems if we are to rustle up a decent cake.

In all times of crisis you could do worse than look in the garden for inspiration, so (rather than go to the corner shop) I pop down to the vegetable patch. And there we stumble upon the perfect solution. How could I have been so stupid! Of course! We don’t need sugar or butter to bake a cake. The greenhouse is full of aubergines!

Yes!

(And for US readers, yup, aubergines really are eggplants, and not some weird limey name for butter-and-sugar trees).

I realise that at this stage you might be thinking that all that French sun has affected Drooling in more ways than just the deep mahogany tan, but bear with me here.

Before we set off I bought a rather odd cookbook, Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache, after reading a review in The Guardian. The basic premise is you can bake most sweet things by replacing the butter, and to some extent the sugar, with vegetables. The natural sugars and other stuff in the veggies will do the same job, but will be much better for you: think carrot cake.

I should say at this point that the book is written in eye-wateringly winsome prose, but a few recipes in and I can confirm that the principles are sound. The above cake was kncoked up using aubergines and honey instead of lardy butter and sugar. And it tasted delicious!

The cake comes out of the over looking remarkably glossy – not the dull¬† matt brown of your average sponge – and it’s very moist. Harry Eastwood notes that there’s no point in sticking a skewer in your cake to check if it’s done, as the vegetable intrusion means you get a moist end product, and she’s not wrong.

But this doesn’t give you a soggy, leaden lump. Instead you’re left with something more like the lovechild of a Victoria sponge and a Chocolate Mousse. Hard to resist, huh?

Anyway, without further ado here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Heartache Cake

Ingredients

400g aubergines

300 dark chocolate

50g cocoa powder

60g ground almonds

3 eggs

200g runny honey

2tsp baking pwoder

1/2 tsp salt

Cook the aubgerines in a covered bowl in the microwave for 8 mins. Drain and skin them and puree the squishy stuff. Add the chocolate to the warm aubergine and drool while it melts. Whisk everything else up in a different bowl. Add the chocolate-and-aubergine mixture to this and mix well.

Pour it all into a 23cm diameter cake tin (ideally loose-bottomed) and bake in the oven (180c / 350f / gas mark 4) for 30 minutes. Let it cool in the tin for 15 mins and then stick it on a cake rack. Eat.

On the ipod while cooking: Nothing. It broke while on holiday. Boo hoo.

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Aubergines

I love my greenhouse. It’s one of the first things I put into the garden when we moved house, and when it comes to growing vegetables it opens up so many possibilities. In the spring it does a great job as an incubator, meaning I can get vegetables started early in the year and get me a headstart on the season.

In the winter it provides protection for all those plants too wussy to cope with a few months in the open air. Yes, I’m looking at you Mrs Dahlia. Most excitingly at this time of year it allows me to grow Mediterranean crops that would otherwise turn up their sun-loving noses in disgust at my South London weather.

This year I’ve got cucumbers, melons, peppers and tomatoes.¬† Some of these would cope OK on the patio, sure, but you know what they’re like: they might produce some fruit but I’d have to spend all summer listening to them moaning on about the weather, how it’s much warmer in Spain, how I should be grateful to have just a handful of small, bitter tomatoes, yadda yadda yadda.

So having a greenhouse saves me earache and allows me to grow things like the little aubergines (eggplant, if you’re on the other side of the Atlantic) in the pic above. I tried growing aubergines a couple of years ago but didn’t have much luck. Two small fruits, with tough skins and rubbery flesh weren’t an advert for the veg at its best.

This year though things have been much better. The three plants look perky, about a foot tall and bushy, and they’ve produced loads of fruits – about 6-7 per plant. They’re not massive but that’s the variety (Orland0) rather than my poor husbandry. No, really it is.

So what to do with the veg now they’re ready to eat? The little babies are so small and precious that it seems a waste to toss them into something like a ratatouille where they’ll disappear without trace among a thousand other flavours. And beautiful though they are, there’s nowhere near enough to make a big dish like moussaka.

For the first batch I’ve opted instead for Moutabal. You and I, we’re citizens of the world, been around a bit, I need say no more. I can sense your approval. But there might be a couple of readers who don’t know what we’re talking about, so for their benefit: Moutabal is a Middle Eastern puree. Sometimes eaten as a dip, probably great as a side dish for chargrilled lamb, we ate this smeared onto the end of carrot battons.

Normally I’d stick a photo of the results for you to drool over, but as I haven’t quite got the hang of this food photography business I’m going to pass. In my defence, every other photo I’ve found of Moutabal makes it look a bit like the stuff I used to grout the bath the other day. Don’t be put off, it’s delicious, honest! Instead coo over the lovely flowers just waiting to turn into aubergines…

Very pretty. But even better whizzed up with garlic and tahini

Moutabal

3-4 aubergines

4 tbsp tahini

3 cloves garlic

juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp olive oil

Prick the aubergines and bake them in the oven (200c) for about an hour or until they blacken. Cut them open and scrape the insides into a bowl. Mix the tahini and lemon juice with a few drops of water and then stir this into the aubergine paste. Finely chop the garlic and add.

Ideally you would now drizzle a few pomegranate seeds over the top of your dip. Haven’t quite managed to grow them in the greenhouse yet. However, chopped parsley works pretty well.

(Most recipes include salt in the ingredients. I find the above recipe is pretty salty as it is, so I’ve left it out)

On the ipod while sipping beer and pretending I’m sitting in a North African market: Kate Nash / Birds. A rather beautiful anthem to chav love.