Aubergine is generally treated as a vegetable when it is cooked, though it’s technically a fruit (a berry, to be exact).
Native to South-East Asia, it’s grown all over the world, and there are many different varieties. The most common in Europe and the Mediterranean is the glossy, deep purple, bulbous variety (you may also see this shape in white, yellow or a striated purple and white); there are round varieties in purple, purple and white, and an almost red colour; egg-shaped white ones (aubergine is called eggplant in the USA and Australia); skinny, dark purple Asian aubergines; and small, round, lime-sized green ones and scarcely-bigger-than-a-pea varieties grown in Thailand.
Most varieties share the same bland, mildly smoky flavour and flesh that’s spongy when raw but soft when cooked, although the small green ones are bitter and astringent. Older aubergines that have lots of seeds are also more bitter. When buying, choose aubergines that feel heavy and have glossy skins.
How to cook aubergines
You can grill, fry, griddle, barbecue and bake aubergines as well as adding them to curries and casseroles. Famous dishes include ratatouille, caponata, moussaka, parmigiana, miso aubergine and imam bayildi.
Aubergine is usually cut into slices, cubes or strips and cooked in a little oil before being added to sauces, as this gives it a much better texture. For a crisp surface, the slices are dusted in flour or fine polenta first. Whole aubergines are often barbecued, roasted over an open flame or baked whole before having the flesh scooped out to make baba ganoush and other dips.
Skinnier varieties can be halved, and the cut flesh scored and brushed with oil, before they are baked, grilled or barbecued. Small round aubergines used in Thai dishes are quartered and eaten raw with spicy dips, and pea aubergines are added to curries whole.
Most aubergines have a soft, spongy flesh when raw, and it’s this raw texture that affects what happens to them when they are cooked. Once an aubergine is cut open and the flesh exposed to oil in a pan it acts just like a sponge, drawing the oil into all the tiny air pockets within it.
Cooked properly, aubergine flesh will become creamy, almost fudgy in texture on the inside, but if it becomes too sodden with oil it can become quite rich and heavy. As you continue to cook, the cells within the flesh will break down, some oil will be released again and the flesh will start to collapse. The skin doesn’t break down in the same way but it does become very tender.
Uncooked and undercooked aubergine is tough and difficult to cut easily, so it’s always worth making sure it’s cooked through properly.
How to store aubergine
Aubergines like to be kept cool but not cold. The fridge may encourage soft spots to form, so a cool dark cupboard can be a better option. They’re best used as soon as possible after you have bought them – the skin will start to wrinkle as they age.
How to cut aubergine
Don’t prepare aubergine long before you want to cook it, because the flesh will begin to discolour. Some aubergine recipes may require you to peel them, either entirely or in strips.
How to salt aubergine
In old cookbooks you will find instructions for salting all aubergines by slicing them into a colander, sprinkling with salt and leaving them to ‘sweat’ for about 30 mins. This was done to reduce the bitterness, and it’s generally no longer necessary to do this. However, salting aubergines will firm up the flesh and help stop them from soaking up as much oil, so you may still want to add this step to a recipe.
Another way to stop as much oil being absorbed is to lightly pre-cook aubergine by microwaving it or steaming it for about 5 minutes after it’s cut.
Oven-baked aubergine slices
3 tbsp olive oil
chopped mint to serve (optional)
1 lemon, halved (optional)
- Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Slice the aubergine into 1cm-thick rounds.
- Spread out the aubergine in a roasting tin or on a baking sheet (you may need to use two) and drizzle with the oil. Turn the pieces over with your hands and season.
- Roast for 15-20 mins, turning the slices halfway through cooking, or until they are dark golden on the outside and soft inside. Transfer to a dish, and sprinkle with chopped mint and lemon juice if you like.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tub fresh pesto (optional)
- Slice the aubergine lengthways into 1cm slices. Arrange the aubergines over a grill pan.
- Brush lightly with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then grill until golden.
- Flip them over, brush again with oil, season and grill again until tender and golden. Spoon a little pesto onto each and grill briefly if you like.
Five of the best aubergine recipes
Grill, barbecue or cook the aubergine over a gas flame to really give a smoky flavour to this chilli.
Burnt aubergine veggie chilli
A French classic, this recipe uses all the summer veg – courgettes, peppers and tomatoes as well as aubergine – in one dish.
This makes a fantastic vegetarian main or a side dish with cold meat.
Grilled aubergines with spicy chickpeas
Roast aubergine adds a soft, rich texture to this fragrant curry.
Aubergine & coconut curry
Make this smoky aubergine dip as a starter next time you have guests.
Baba ganoush with sesame crackers
Discover more delicious recipes in our aubergine collection.
Which aubergine recipe are you most keen to try? Let us know in the comments below…