Purple Fever

Aubergine has never been a top rung vegetable in India. But with a few gourmet twists,chefs are keen to change its status

Written by Afsha Khan | Published:October 7, 2012 3:40 am

Aubergine has never been a top rung vegetable in India. But with a few gourmet twists,chefs are keen to change its status

Call it an aubergine,eggplant,brinjal or baingan,this purple-hued vegetable has people divided in two — those who love it,and those who despise it. Mumbai chefs are quite aware that the population against the vegetable in any form,outnumbers the former. Yet,that isn’t stopping them from taking liberties with it in their kitchen.

At Bandra’s Poco Loco,a relatively new restaurant specialising in tapas and Sangria,Berenjaras Rellenas features a medium-sized aubergine cut in half and baked with goat cheese,cheddar and herbs. It isn’t the most appealing item on the menu,what with the seafood paella and patatas bravas,but it has started to emerge as a favourite among the vegetarian clientele. “Personally,most Indians hate aubergine,especially what they eat at home,” says its owner Sonal Bhandarkar. But the cheese on top adds a lot of creaminess to the vegetable in this Poco Loco dish,getting rid of its bitterness.

Across city restaurants,aubergine-based dishes are finding takers. Carpaccio,traditionally made with slices of either beef or fish,is served with aubergine slices and a tangy chilly vinegarette at Busaba’s outlets in Colaba and Lower Parel. At Andheri’s Trikaya,the vegetable is served in the form of satay with peanuts and coriander. Bandra’s high-end Chinese restaurant,Hakkasan,uses it to complement the tofu in their hot and sour soup. But it isn’t an item unique to vegetarian fare anymore. Restaurants are now adding it to dishes with meat too. Cafe Mangii,which has branches in Khar,Andheri and Powai,among other locations,serves a caponata along with char-grilled chicken.

“Many people don’t like aubergine,but for me it’s an interesting vegetable,” says Krishna Khetle,head chef of Cafe Mangii,who deep fries aubergine cubes to add crunch to the caponata. “It’s also a very versatile vegetable and can be prepared in a lot of different ways,something people are slowly beginning to realise,and warm up to,” he adds.

While several establishments are sticking to their choice of serving aubergine in interesting ways,there are still others who believe that the vegetable may not take off on a wide scale. The California Pizza Kitchen outlets used a Japanese variety in three dishes — Fire Roasted Vegetable Pizza,Grilled Vegetable Salad and Goat Cheese Salad with roasted peppers. “But when we surveyed the orders we realised that most people would order these dishes,asking for the aubergine to be left out,” reveals Bakul Kodikal,regional kitchen manager,California Pizza Kitchen,India. “The dishes just aren’t the same if you leave the aubergine out. The pizza looks like it’s missing the topping. That’s why with a new menu makeover,we’ve taken the aubergine off,and replaced it with zucchini,” adds Kodikal.

This is something most establishments deal with when adding an item to their menu that comes with pre-conceived notions. Still most of them are rooting for aubergine. “You have a lot of different vegetarian options in the city with cottage cheese,okra,tomato,stuffed peppers,but there’s aren’t enough places doing things with aubergine,” says Poco Loco’s Bhandarkar. “We wanted to change this trend,as well as mindsets and turn it into a gourmet meal,” he adds.

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