Purple heart: Grilled eggplant with tahini and yoghurt dressing, pomegranate, chilli and mint.
Grilled eggplant with tahini and yoghurt dressing, pomegranate, chilli and mint. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Eggplants get a bit of a hard time. True, they're not particularly forgiving - an undercooked eggplant has about as much charm as a raw potato - but handled well, they are incredibly versatile and one of my favourite vegetables.

Grilled eggplant with tahini and yoghurt dressing, pomegranate, chilli and mint

This eggplant salad is great with barbecued meat or poultry, especially if there's a nice char on the flesh. It marries well with marinades or dressings with Middle Eastern flavours.

4 large eggplants

Salt flakes

Extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp cumin seeds

2 cloves garlic

2 tbsp tahini

300g plain yoghurt

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 bunch mint, picked

1 green chilli, sliced into rings

1 red chilli, sliced into rings

1/2 fresh pomegranate

1. Preheat a grill pan or barbecue.

2. Cut the eggplant into 1 1/2-2cm-thick slices lengthways, season and brush with oil. Grill for a few minutes on each side then lie flat to cool. The eggplant should be just cooked but still holding its shape.

3. In a mortar and pestle, grind the cumin seeds coarsely. Add two good pinches of salt and briefly grind together. Grate the garlic on a Microplane and add to the cumin. Add the tahini, yoghurt and lemon juice, mix well.

4. Lie the eggplant on a serving dish. Spoon the dressing over, then scatter over the mint, chillies and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Serves 6-8

Drink Hefeweizen wheat beer.

 

Melanzane sotto aceto with banana peppers, basil and chilli

My preserved eggplant is a great pantry staple, perfect with cured meats and hard cheese, and it really dresses up an antipasto. I also love it in a simple sandwich with shavings of grana padano.

8 medium eggplants

200g salt flakes

600ml-800ml white wine vinegar

4 cloves garlic, finely sliced

4 banana peppers, seeds removed, sliced finely

20 grinds pepper

1 1/2 tsp ground cloves

5 sprigs basil, leaves picked

3 red chillies, such as milder long red chillies, split (not seeded)

Equal amounts vegetable and extra virgin olive oil to top jars (perhaps 500ml-800ml)

1. Peel the eggplants using a vegetable peeler and slice lengthways into 1cm slices. Cut the slices into strips about 1cm wide. Place into a bowl and toss well with the salt. Place in a colander, cover with a plate and weigh down evenly overnight - the eggplant will lose lots of water, so make sure the colander has somewhere to drain to.

2. Rinse the eggplant in cold water, then squeeze well to extract the moisture. Place into a bowl and cover with white wine vinegar. Cover with a plate to keep the eggplant submerged and again leave overnight.

3. Squeeze out the excess vinegar vigorously with your hands until the eggplant is quite compressed, place into a bowl with the garlic, banana peppers, pepper, ground cloves and basil. Toss well.

4. Put the eggplant mix into sterilised preserving jars, pressing it down so it is quite compact, adding a chilli to each jar. Top with the blended oil, gently tapping the jars as you add the oil to remove any air pockets. Seal.

5. Store in a cool, dark pantry space or cupboard for two weeks before using. Keep in the fridge once opened.

Makes about 3 x 400g jars.

Tip Blending vegetable oil with olive oil stops it solidifying once refrigerated.

Drink Manzanilla sherry or a ''salty'' Italian white such as vermentino or carricante.

 

Yellow miso eggplant with tofu dressing, fried ginger and garlic

Cooking the eggplant this way steams the flesh in the skin, giving a really moist and delicate result that helps to soak up the flavours from the dressing. This dish goes well with steamed Asian greens and rice, and it's great with fried chicken.

4 medium-sized eggplants

3 tsp dashi powder

1 1/2 tbsp yellow miso paste

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp light soy sauce

4 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil

4 garlic cloves, finely sliced

10cm fresh ginger, finely diced

300g silken tofu

3 spring onions, sliced in rounds

1. Preheat the oven to 220C, fan forced.

2. Place the eggplants on a baking tray and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Peel off the skin, cut the flesh into one-centimetre strips and arrange in a serving dish.

3. In a jug, add 100 millilitres of water, the dashi, yellow miso paste, sesame oil, soy and half the sunflower oil. Process with a stick blender. Pour a third of this over the eggplant strips.

4. In a small pot, not heated, add the garlic, ginger and remaining sunflower oil, then bring to medium heat. Fry for three to four minutes until just golden and fragrant, but take care - too brown and the garlic will be bitter. Drain on a paper towel.

5. Dice half the tofu and distribute it over the eggplant. Add the remaining tofu to the remaining dressing and blitz with the stick blender until frothy. Pour over the eggplant. Sprinkle over the spring onion and the crispy ginger and garlic.

Serves 6-8

Tip To sterilise jars, immerse in boiling water for five minutes, then dry in a warm oven.

Drink Cold sake.