Way before the eggplant emoji, eggplants were the star of the show in cuisines around the world. This humble fruit features in dishes that hail from every continent, except Antarctica. Which tends to be the continent that always stops us being able to make sweeping statements about THE WORLD.
Surprisingly, even though it's been cultivated since prehistory, not everyone loves the humble eggplant/aubergine/bringal. It's easy to grow in abundance, pairs well with both savoury and sweet flavours and it's saved many a day when a vegan friend comes to dinner, but yet... some people loathe it.
It's easy to grow in abundance, pairs well with both savoury and sweet flavours and it's saved many a day when a vegan friend comes to dinner...
The abhorrence that the purple veg can generate has never been more venomously expressed than in Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera: "Very well," a languid Fermina tells the smitten Florentino. "I will marry you if you promise not to make me eat eggplant." How very dare she! Even so, it's fair to suggest she never really wanted to avoid eggplant as it took more than 58 years for this couple to get together.
Deadly good, not deadly
Of course, this is the veggie that was once thought to be poisonous. All members of the nightshade family, including tomatoes, potatoes and capsicum, have had the 'poison' label unfairly slapped on them at some stage in history.
Remember, the fruit is good, the flowers and leaves not so good. These parts of the plant can be toxic when consumed in high doses. Which is why all 11 of these dishes feature only the delicious fruit, the whole fruit, and nothing but the fruit.
Matthew Evan's stunning Gourmet Farmer recipe is basically a low-carb, crustless pizza. Golden eggplant slices mingle pleasantly with a fresh tomato base before smoked mozarella brings the intrigue. This is what mouth romances are all about.
Pizzaola actually means 'in the style of the pizza maker'. Please excuse us while we piazzaola everything in sight.
Miso and eggplant just elevate each other to stratospheric heights. It's like a fuel-injection of umami flavour that lingers pleasantly in your soul hours after eating. Apologies, but a dish like this demands superlatives. Especially when it takes a mere 10 minutes to pull together.
This traditional Greek recipe stuffs eggplants with eggplants. Isn't life simply marvellous?
All members of the nightshade family have had the 'poison' label unfairly slapped on them at some stage in history.
This Shanghainese appetiser of cooled steamed aubergine with a garlicky dressing is absurdly easy to make and wondrously satisfying. Steaming brings out eggplant's lesser-seen gentle side.
The vegetarian dishes of China's cuisine aren't often given much spotlight, but this crispy eggplant will have everyone pushing aside the sweet and sour pork.
An abundance of herbs makes this vegetable green curry really sing.
An Italian street food favourite that will quickly become yours. You won't miss the meat for even a second in these little 'meatballs'. They are each an explosion of flavour that's highly addictive.
An eggplant list wouldn't be complete without including the smoky, creamy Middle Eastern wonder that is baba ganoush. Here it becomes a meal with the inclusion of haloumi, grilled flatbread and a moreish, tangy dressing.
The abundant use of eggplant means melanzane alla parmigiana most likely originated in the south of Italy. They love a good eggplant dish down there. No wonder, when eggplant pairs so well with the salty goodness of pecorino cheese and sharp hit of basil.
Steve Zaharis' moussaka is time-consuming, but makes enough for 16 people. He says it's a dish that requires time and patience, so is usually reserved for close friends and loved ones.
This classically Greek eggplant dish gets a seafood refresh. Food Safari Water
This is my modern interpretation of moussaka. I take meltingly tender slow-braised lamb neck and use it to fill hollowed-out eggplants. Instead of the classic creamy bechamel sauce, I add a silky smoked eggplant cream and top it all with baked ricotta. The whole eggplants are then braised in the oven.
Moussaka is Greece’s answer to lasagne, but without the pasta. This vegetarian version takes it one step further by replacing the meat with lentils. The flavours work a treat and it’s just as hearty, so serve it to one and all and see if anyone notices the difference.
These brownies prove that an aubergine makes everything taste better. Even brownies. The silkiness of the eggplant works beautifully with dark chocolate, making for the most luxe pan of goodies you've ever pulled out of the oven.
Fun fact: eggplant is Tetsuya Wakuda's favourite vegetable. He says it's "simple, but bloody good." That said, the flavours in this recipe are anything but simple, with unusual flavour combinations like thyme and rosemary with soy sauce. Taking it further by making native saltbush the star alongside the aubergine reminds us just why Wakuda is one of the most gifted chefs in Australia.
Get on board the pickling train. Pickling eggplant makes it last longer. Perfect for picnics, antipasto and proving once and for all that eggplant truly is for everyone.
Matthew Evans explores all things farm to table in season 5 of Gourmet Farmer, 8pm Thursday nights on SBS and SBS On Demand. Visit the Gourmet Farmer website for recipes, episode guides and more.
If you don’t have chermoula paste in your repertoire now is the time to add it - it’s an exotically spiced, North-African blend of flavours that can be used as a rub for vegetables, meat, seafood, and as a sauce for couscous.
This version of babaganoush sounds unusual, but it’s absolutely delicious: the chocolate and eggplant together give a subtle, sweet, earthy smoky flavour.
If tunnel-boning a quail is a bit tricky for you, you can request that your butcher bone it for you. The Chefs' Line
Serve this savoury chickpea on a baguette with a slice of grilled eggplant, splash of olive oil, and a good grind of black pepper.
Serve these lovely cheesy rolls at room temperature as part of a mezze, scattered with pomegranate seeds.
I love the umami flavour of miso, and my many trips to Japan have shown me how versatile it is.