Aubergine (or eggplant) is widely used in Mediterranean cooking and, if cooked properly, will bring a very nice character to your dish.
There are many different types of aubergines, as they can differ in colour (black and purple and even white), shape (from round to more oblong) and size. In the UK you will find mainly the black oblong ones, which also happen to be my favourite.
The first very important thing to consider is that you will need to purge your aubergines (unless they are extremely fresh, but that’s very unlikely when you buy them in a supermarket): to do that, slice them and rub each slice with salt, only on one side, and put them in a colander for 30 minutes.
Place the colander in a bowl as they will release some liquid. After that time, you will see a brown liquid at the bottom of the bowl: it is all water that otherwise would make your cooked aubergines soggy and this process will also enhance the flavour, making the aubergines sweeter.
This is the treatment needed before cooking.
Many recipes call for deep fried aubergines (pasta alla Norma and melanzane alla parmigiana just to mention two of my favs) but, since I don’t like deep frying, I tried to find an alternative that was healthier and also less messy without compromising on flavour, and that’s why I started to look for other ways to do it.
Initially I tried with shallow frying instead of deep frying, but the problem is that aubergines absorb a lot of oil and you will end up with a fairly fatty result anyway, even if probably not as bad as deep frying.
After that I tried drizzling them with olive oil and cook them in a dry hot pan; however, for the same reason (aubergines absorb the oil very quickly), the results are not consistent, as each slice will have dry parts and parts that have absorbed all the oil.
This is not a secondary problem as the oil (or fats in general) plays a key role in the cooking process, and your aubergine will not get the right colour and, most importantly, the right flavour.
Therefore, in order to distribute the oil evenly, making sure that the process is optimised and, by the same token, we do not use too much fat, I started brushing them with oil using a pastry brush (after patting them dry): the result was just what I was looking for.
I suggest you buy a silicon brush if you don’t have one as the traditional ones are very hard to clean after use.
To sum up, if you want to have healthy aubergines without compromising on flavour, follow these steps:
1. Slice the aubergines; size, in cooking, matters: this technique works well if the slices are not too thick, I would say as thin as you can but not thicker thicker than 6-7 mm; I suggest that you use a mandolin if you have one
2. Rub them with salt; giving the exact quantity here is almost impossible, just bear in mind that should be enough to draw the water out but not too much otherwise the aubergines will be too salty; the quantity of salt depends also on how thick your slices are; use your common sense and experience and don’t get frustrated if you get it wrong the first time: it’s all part of the learning process
3. Place them in a colander and leave them to purge for 30 minutes
4. Pat them dry and brush them with olive oil on one side
5. Place them in a very hot pan, oiled side down and brush the upper side with more oil
6. When the first side is nicely coloured, turn them to cook the other side