Aubergines: ‘Moussaka’ to my ears!
Although normally associated to sunnier climes, the exotic aubergine has in recent years been widely cultivated on home turf. Now being sown, grown and nurtured throughout the British Isles, numerous varieties of aubergine can now be extensively found in our shops, markets, delis and grocers; with reduced air miles and guaranteed freshness.
Despite being used predominantly as a vegetable in a variety of international cuisines, the aubergine’s credentials actually categorise it is a fruit. With sponge-like flesh encasing soft, edible seeds, aubergine is botanically classified as a berry although carrying an unconventional, savoury, bitter taste.
As a fantastic source of fibre and packed with antioxidants, aubergine can be distinctly found as a staple ingredient in Indian, South-East Asian, Mediterranean and Arabian cooking – most commonly found in its familiar deep-purple, bulbous appearance. However, the aubergine boasts a catalogue of varieties, although all often retaining its traditional spongey, smoky flesh, and taut and shiny exterior.
Traditionally, cooking aubergines was associated with an arduous and lengthy cooking process. When the aubergine was first introduced to the British Isles, its flavour was bitter and overpowering, and it was the ‘pre-salting’ process that was used to draw out it’s unpleasantries. As varieties have mellowed in flavour and become more commonplace in our British kitchens, this process is now redundant, and aubergine can be simply and effortlessly added to all dishes.
However, this process does offer some advantages. As previously described, aubergines have a spongey nature that makes it the perfect material to excessively absorbing unnecessary oil during the cooking process. By gently pre-cooking or salting, an aubergine’s structure is instantly tightened ensuring you avoid over absorption, and a greasy and slimy end result.
With the aubergine’s diverse and interesting origins, and in prime season between the months of May and October, I felt it necessary to make it the hero ingredient of my latest fusion dish – Moroccan Moussaka.
Using it in its most familiar environment of a moussaka, I wanted introduce other culinary influences in which the aubergine is thought of as a primary ingredient. Using classic Moroccan flavours and ingredients such as cinnamon, ginger, apricots and chickpeas, I arrived at a rich and flavoursome dish that couldn’t help but work in harmony. Substituting traditional layers of potato with its ‘sweet’ cousin also makes for a lighter, healthier option as well as adding colour and vibrancy to the dish. Its sweetness also sits perfectly alongside plump apricots that help to cut through the richness of meat.
But, with all this in mind, the aubergine remains the star of the show! Its beautiful purple skin and distinct flavour and texture should be truly celebrated through these summer months!
- 1 Large aubergine
- Course Salt
- 1 Large sweet potato
- Splash of rapeseed oil
- 1 Red onion
- 500g Minced beef/lamb
- 1 Large courgette
- 1 Pepper
- 100g Mushrooms
- Handful of cherry/plum tomatoes
- 1 Tsp cayenne
- 1 Tsp mixed spice
- 2 Tsp cinnamon
- 1 Tin chopped tomatoes
- 75g Dried apricots
- 1 Tin chickpeas (drained)
- Tsp Chilli jam
- Small bunch of fresh coriander
- Salt and pepper
- 75g Butter
- 75g Plain flour
- 1 pint milk
- 150g Greek yoghurt
- 1 Tsp Nutmeg
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 Egg
- 100g cheddar
- Top and tail the aubergine before thinly slicing and laying on kitchen roll. Liberally sprinkle with course salt on both sides and leave for at least 10 minutes (washing in cold water and draining before using).
- In the meantime, peel and thinly slice the sweet potato, place in a pan of water and bring to the boil. Cook only until slightly tender and still holding form – drain and set aside.
- Roughly dice the onion and lightly fry in a large pan of oil. Allow to soften before adding the mince. Cook on a relatively high heat until the mince has browned, before draining any excess liquid. Add roughly chopped courgette, pepper, mushroom and tomatoes and fry for a further 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle in the spices and allow to coat the meat on a medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Once the spices are evenly distributed, add the chopped tomatoes, roughly chopped apricots, chickpeas, and finally a generous spoon of chilli jam.
- Coarsely chop the coriander and add to the pan along with the appropriate amount of seasoning. Simmer on a low heat, stirring occasionally whilst you make the sauce.
- In a pan, melt the butter. Still on the heat, add the flour whilst continuously stirring. Cook off the flour on a medium heat for 2 minutes. Once the paste has reached a powdery consistency, slowly add the milk, a little at a time whilst continuously stirring to ensure no lumps form in the sauce. Once all the milk is incorporated, add the greek yoghurt, nutmeg and seasoning. Take the sauce off the heat before adding a beaten egg.
- Assemble the moussaka in a large oven proof dish. First spoon half the mince in the dish before layering with the aubergine and sweet potato. Layer on the remain mince and finally top with the sauce. Grate the cheese and generously sprinkle over the top of the moussaka.
- Place in a pre-heated oven at 200c/Gas 5 for 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven once golden on top, and leave to rest for 5 minutes (this helps to stiffen the moussaka a little, making it easier to serve). Serve with a fresh green salad or steamed vegetables