Having spent nearly ten years of my life as a vegetarian or pescatarian, I have a thing for meaty vegetables – mushrooms, thick cuts of zucchini (courgette) and eggplant (aubergine) are almost always on my grocery list, even since returning to more carnivorous eating habits. And though I realise a hunky purple eggplant emoji means a TOTALLY different thing… I’m still prone to swooning at the actual vegetable in real life.
During those ten years of vegetarianism, I played out EVERY possible eggplant option I could possibly imagine; roasting for dips, coating with breadcrumbs for frying, baking with cheese and tomato sauce and grilling had all been done and done. In truth, unless someone else was cooking it (I will never turn down food made by someone else) I was kind of over my beloved eggplant.
Emily introduces the recipe by explaining that pickling eggplant is a tradition of Jewish communities from India; the largest living just south of Mumbai. Up until earlier this week, I hadn’t given a single thought to the idea that there might even BE Jewish people in India. How intriguing!
The largest community – known as the Bene Israel community- migrated to the area from the Middle East hundreds of years ago, assimilating as they went but still incorporating some of their Jewish traditions into daily life, including the heavy use of eggplant, as is typical with Sephardic Jewish cooking (meaning from the Middle East as opposed to Eastern Europe).
I’ve never met a pickle I didn’t like, so when you take the word ‘pickled’ and combine it with one of my old favourite vegetables, and I couldn’t resist giving this recipe a try. Full disclosure: the ‘quick’ part really helped too!
Fast forward the two days I left it to pickle, to today and within minutes (zero of them spent cooking either) I had put together a super flavourful lunchtime salad, which I scooped up with a pita and devoured without having to do much thinking or prep work. So easy!
I can imagine serving this in a variety of ways as part of a more ‘mezze’ (or picky-dinner as we call it at home) type of meal. Dishes might include this homemade labneh, these beans or maybe even these tortillas. I love that I can completely see the influence of Indian culture with its pickles and chutneys mixed together with more Middle Eastern roots. The outcome not only makes sense but also adds a completely new dish to my tried-and-tired eggplant repertoire.
With summer eating now in full flow, having a jar in your fridge that you can dip into to add a quick burst of flavour to an unremarkable sandwich or salad sounds pretty appealing to me. I adapted the recipe slightly, mostly due to what I had on hand. I’m looking forward to trying more recipes from Emily’s book as the summer carries on.
Bene Israel Quick-Pickled Eggplant
– adapted slightly from The Joys of Jewish Preserving
2 medium-sized eggplants (aubergines), peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon kosher salt (I used Maldon sea salt)
470ml or 2 cups apple cider or pomegranate vinegar
236ml or 1 cup white wine vinegar
236ml or 1 cup water
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large pinch dried red chili flakes
12 fresh mint leaves
1 glass, seal-tight 1.5L jar, or the equivalent in smaller jars – sterilised
Begin by peeling and cubing your eggplant, tipping the chunks into a large sieve or colander and sprinkling generously with your salt. Stir the salt through with your hands, then allow the eggplant to sit over the sink or a bowl to drain for approximately 30 minutes, helping to remove excess moisture. During this time you can pick your mint leaves and peel and slice the garlic.
Once your eggplant has sat for 30 minutes it’s time to pickle! In a medium to a large pot over a high heat, add your vinegar, water, and sugar and bring to a boil. Add in your chunks of eggplant, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer away for about 5 minutes until the chunks are soft but still hold together.
Remove from heat then scoop the eggplant into your sterilised jar, dotting with slices of garlic and mint leaves throughout. Pour the brining liquid over the top, leaving a bit of room at the top but covering the eggplant completely. Allow to fully cool before popping into the fridge for the next 2-3 days to cure.
*Note – If you notice your garlic slices turning blue or green DON’T WORRY! This can happen sometimes during the pickling process due to the sulfur from the garlic coming into contact with both acid from the pickling and metals – either traces in water or from pots/pans etc. Unless your garlic is super old (in which case you shouldn’t really use it anyhow), it’s totally fine to eat- and even considered desirable in some cultures!