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.