I’m familiar with big glossy Mediterranean aubergines, the skinny Asian varieties and even the pea-sized green Thai aubergines that are cooked whole. However I had never before come across a creamy-white aubergine until today.
Aubergines are members of the same family as tomatoes and potatoes, but are native to South Asia rather than South America. They’re cultivated and eaten across the world in a variety of ways – from ice cold gaji naengguk soup from Korea, hot Indian curries and smoky baba ganoush from the Middle East.
Some googling and educated guesswork suggest my pearly plum-sized aubergines are a Thai variety – an Ivory Egg (from where the American name, eggplant comes from). In South-East Asia, the spiritual home of the aubergine, they are a staple vegetable of the fragrant, coconut milk curries where their spongy flesh soaks up the flavoursome broth; this habit and their meaty texture also makes them a go-to food in many vegetarian dishes too. Rick Stein, in his books on South-East Asian and Indian cooking, finds that Asian varieties stand up much better to a long, slow style of cooking such as in a curry, as they hold their shape a little better.
Of course, a word of aubergine caution. The absorbent properties of the aubergine can also make it an unpleasant greasy experience, as they soak up oil too when fried. Fuschia Dunlop recommends in her excellent books on Chinese cookery (where deep fried aubergine in a fish-fragrant Sichuanese sauce is often mentioned as one of her favourite dishes), salting the aubergine before frying helps limit the amount of oil they absorb.
Of course, whatever the variety you prefer or always see in the supermarket, it’s nice to try the unusual (whether that be completely new, or just a different take on the familiar) to inspire a little creativity once in a while.