"What a pound for the melongene?" is question you would ask in the market. "What's the price of the eggplant?" will be the question that will come from the supermarkets. Ask "How de baigan selling?" if you're in the country. But you will never hear, "Pray tell, what is the cost of the aubergine?" being asked in sweet Trinidad and Tobago.
The most common cause of this problem is leaving the bread to rise for too long. This is easily done if you are unable to control the temperature of the environment where the bread is rising. It is also tempting to let the dough rise that little extra bit in an effort to make lighter bread. The problem, however, is that the dough becomes over stretched and falls to pieces.
After all, we've known it by the melongene moniker for years, but its official name is the eggplant which is used in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. That name derived from the fruits of some 18th-century European varieties which were yellow or white and resembled eggs. (Incidentally, aubergine is also the name of the purple colour resembling that of the fruit, but I digress...)
My experiences with melongene have been few, only because I am allergic to it. Still, I do appreciate it because of its diverse treatments in dishes. People have enjoyed it roasted, grilled, baked, steamed, battered and deep fried and stewed (in a ratatouille). Before discovering my allergy I used to especially enjoy baiganee, a deep fried slice of melongene coated on either side with a split pea batter and fried until crisp. When it was brought out of the hot oil, the sliced edge of the melongene looked like a shiny little belt holding the batter together... and the taste was pure heaven!
So, it you're searching for melongene in the market, always know that regardless of its size, shape or colour it should be firm and shiny. Shine tells you how old it was when it was picked: the duller the skin, the older the fruit, the more spongy its texture and the more developed its seeds. Pick it up and feel the weight... it should feel heavy for its size. Firmness tells you how old it has grown since picking day. Also, Press it with your thumb; it should indent and then spring back immediately – that's how you know it's ripe. If you press it and it stays indented, it's over ripe; the longer it sits around, the flabbier it gets. Always choose the firm, shiny ones for your dishes.
Speaking of which, today's melongene dishes get the Eye Food seal of approval; here are recipes for Eggplant Parmesan and the Trinbago classic, Baigan Choka. Have fun cooking!
(Yield: Serves 8)
2 lbs (about 2 large) eggplants
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
4 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 lbs of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 cup grated high quality Parmesan cheese
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves
• Cut eggplants lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange one layer in the bottom of a large colander and sprinkle evenly with salt. Repeat with remaining eggplant, salting, until all eggplant is in the colander. Weigh down the slices with a couple of plates and let drain for 2 hours. The purpose of this step is to have the eggplant release some of its moisture before cooking.
• While the eggplant is draining, prepare tomato sauce. Combine tomatoes, garlic and 1/3 cup olive oil in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
• When eggplant has drained, press down on it to remove excess water, wipe off the excess salt, and lay the slices out on paper towels to remove all the moisture.
• In a wide, shallow bowl, combine flour and breadcrumbs. Mix well.
• Pour beaten eggs into another wide shallow bowl. Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat, and pour in a half inch of olive oil. When oil is shimmering, dredge the eggplant slices first in the flour mixture, then in the beaten egg. Working in batches, slide coated eggplant into hot oil and fry until golden brown on both sides, turning once. Drain on paper towels.
• Preheat the oven to 350°F. In the bottom of a 10x15 inch glass baking dish, spread 1 cup of tomato sauce. Top with one third of the eggplant slices. Top eggplant with half of the mozzarella slices. Sprinkle with one third of the Parmesan and half of the basil leaves.
• Make a second layer of eggplant slices, topped by 1 cup of sauce, remaining mozzarella, half the remaining Parmesan, and all of the remaining basil.
• Add remaining eggplant, and top with the remaining tomato sauce and Parmesan.
• Bake until cheese has melted and the top is slightly brown, about 30 minutes. Allow to rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving.
(Yield: Serves 8)
1 large firm melongene
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and each clove cut in four lengthways
1 small yellow hot pepper (remove the seeds and mince finely)
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 tomato, seeded and chopped (optional)
Salt to taste
• Take the clean melongene and make some slits in it with a knife.
• Insert the slivers of garlic into the slits as deeply as possible.
• Put a little cooking oil in your hands and rub the melongene with it, coating the skin well – it mustn't drip oil when you pick it up.
• Using a fork or a knife with a long blade, place it gently on an open flame on your stove. Turn it occasionally so it roasts evenly on all sides. The entire melongene should be nicely soft and cooked with charred skin.
• Place the cooked melongene gently on a plate and cut it in half. Using a couple of spoons, remove the flesh away from the charred skin and transfer it into another bowl.
• Add in the chopped tomato (optional).
• Add in the onion and hot minced pepper and mash with a fork to blend everything.
• Add salt to taste.
Enjoy with some sada roti or Crix.