One is the diverse range of ethnic foods so easily available in the capital, especially our old Turkish corner shop near the Arsenal stadium, the Chinese supermarkets in Gerrard Street and my favourite food emporium, the Taj Stores in Brick Lane.
I’d rather wander round the Taj than Fortnum and Mason. It sells a vast range of foods and other goods but what I love about it most are the spices, available in catering-sized packs.
So the other day I trekked to London and braved monsoon-style rain to stock up. I bought spices, of course, but was also seduced by some giant pillowy naan breads and slim, shiny, lavender-coloured aubergines.
This is what I made with them. It is a sort of Imam Bayildi but using Indian rather than Turkish spicing. Imam Bayildi means ‘the Imam fainted’, supposedly with delight at the deliciousness of the dish. Hopefully it will cast you into at least a light swoon. It’s good with Indian bread, naan or rotis, to mop up the sauce and a drizzle of garlicky yoghurt.
4 slim aubergines or 2 fat ones
4 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tspn grated root ginger
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tspn cumin seeds
1/2 tspn turmeric
1/2 tspn ground cumin
1/2 tspn ground coriander
1/4 tspn cayenne pepper
1 tin chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh coriander, to garnish
Cut the stalks off the aubergines and using a vegetable peeler, peel them vertically in stripes. This allows the flavours to penetrate better. Place in a sieve over the sink, sprinkle with salt and leave for half an hour. Wipe off the salt and set aside.
Heat half the oil in a wide pan and fry the onions until soft and golden. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for one minute more. Now add the spices, stir through and cook for a further minute.
Pour in the chopped tomatoes and a splash of water and season with salt and pepper. Cook at a gentle simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened. Set aside while you finish the aubergines.
On a high heat, quickly fry the aubergines in the remaining oil until golden all over but still firm. Once they’re cool enough to handle, cut a vertical slit in each one (if you’re using slim aubergines), stopping before you reach the ends, so they look like little dug-out canoes. If you’re using big aubergines, cut them in half and slit each half the same way.
Put them flesh-side up in a gratin dish or shallow lidded pan and stuff as much of the tomato mixture as possible into the slits, trying to retain the aubergines’ shape. Pile any you have leftover on top or spoon it round the sides.
Cover and cook at a gentle simmer on top of the stove or in an oven pre-heated to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4, for about 30-45 minutes or until tender. Check them from time to time and add a little more water if they’re drying out, but aubergines release a lot of liquid.
When they’re done, scatter with some fresh coriander and serve. We ate them with garlicky yoghurt and a pile of fenugreek rotis from the Taj. The lamb kofta kebabs in the serving pic are optional – recipe coming soon.