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Wednesday, 21 October 2020


It's funny how within any family there are certain ingredients and certain recipes that feature over and over again and yet a whole host of ingredients and recipes that never get used. It is easy to see how we can feel that we are stuck in a rut sometimes, especially with weekly meals. It is easy to buy the same old thing and to stay within our comfort zone when it comes to family meals, especially if the family have different tastes and there are only a few meals that everyone agrees on.

And so it is in our house. Despite the variety of ingredients we use and grow, I do feel that our weekly menu goes round on a fortnightly rota. I can't help thinking too that my style of cooking and my choice of meals will influence what my girls go on to eat in the future. I hope I have instilled in them an appreciation of cooking from scratch and to value to benefits of seasonal eating with balanced nutrition. However, I will have inevitably failed to introduce them to food that they go on to love or they may rebell against certain dishes that I serve up so fequently that they are just dull.

One ingredient I have never been keen on is aubergine. You would think that such a beauiful purple-black fruit would be a delight to eat but I find it to have an odd texture and a bland flavour. Given that it is also hard to grow successfully in this country, I have never had a glut of them to contend with so haven't had the motivation to explore possibilities further.

I did once cook a fairly edible chocolate and aubergine cake when I had an aubergine delivered in a veg box. It had the texture like a cross between fudge and brownies and it weirdly improved with storage over the course of a week. However, I didn't really feel any grown-up sense of achievement towards my goal of liking aubergine when eaten in this form.

My eldest daughter introduced me to the Japanese dish nesu dengaku, which is a kind of oven roasted aubergine with savoury, oriential flavours and I am pleased to say I actually quite like this. So now and then we will buy an aubergine and eat it like this.

Nesu Dengaku

1 aubergine
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp mirin
Black sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Cut the aubergine in half lengthwise and score it deeply diagonally in both directions to make a series of diamond shapes. Fry the aubergine face down for a couple of minutes until browned. Turn over and add some water to the pan and cook with the lid on for 3-4 minutes until cooked through. In the meantime mix the other ingredients together in a small jug. Transfer the aubergine onto a baking tray and pour on the mixed liquid and rub in. Cover with foil and put in the oven for 10 minutes. Scatter with black sesame seeds and serve with sticky rice, stir fried vegetables and gyoza.

So that sort of added aubergine to my list of occasional ingredients but it still doesn't feature very highly in my menu choices. However, when faced with a glut of courgettes over the summer, my youngest daughter asked if we could try making ratatouille. I confess that there is nothing about this recipe that appeals to me but not one to dampen enthusiasm, I bought the required aubergine and let her get on with it.

Turns out ratatouille is her all time favourite food and since her first attempt in the summer she has made it repeatedly, especially when she wants to opt out of the steak or lamb dinner her father and I are having that night. She makes a full batch then adds the leftovers to pasta the next day or uses it to make a type of minestrone soup. She has even made it into pie and lasagne. I am confident she will be a very healthy-eating student in a few years time with this kind of enthusiam and it will be cheap too!

Ratatouille (serves 2-3)

1 aubergine, cut into chunks
2 small courgettes, cut into chunks
1 pepper, cut into pieces
2 large ripe tomatoes, skinned
1 small onion
1 clove garlic

Fry the vegetables until they are cooked then add the garlic and fry for 1 more minute. Taste to season. Serve hot.

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