Sunday, 17 June 2012


For a long time I thought I didn't like aubergines. I thought they were bitter, soggy and a bit horrible really. Sure, when in Italy (or an Italian restaurant), I enjoyed the occasional oven baked aubergine with loads of Parmesan or Mozzarella on top (even cardboard would taste great if smothered in Parmesan or Mozzarella), but I never used any it in my kitchen. I guess it all stems back years and years to one unfortunate incident with some ratatouille-type thingy, which turned out horrible. However, I switched to a low carb nutrition plan about a year ago, and had to find a substitute for one of my food loves, lasagna. The closest you get without all those nasty carbs (and all that cheese and milk) is moussaka. Based on my few attempts of cooking with aubergines, I was expecting something barely edible and borderline disgusting, wet and soggy. However, it turned out not only tolerable, but even delicious. After finding the perfect moussaka recipe, I realised I actually really enjoy aubergines. So I have started to use them when I roast veg, and also to replace another of my carb food craving, pizza. Surprisingly, the combination of tomato puree, ketchup and oregano creates a very pizza-esque taste, especially if you treat yourself and add some cheese on top. Not saying this beats the real thing, and in a perfect world I would not have to stick to substitutes. However, until someone comes up with calorie free pizza, this is what I'm stuck with, and rather happily stuck to be honest. I also thought I would chuck in a third recipe I stumbled upon in Voisilmäpeliä, one of my favourite food blogs. It's almost the same as the pizza, but I guess it's different enough to warrant it's own recipe.

Moussaka (serves 6):
4 big aubergines
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil (I love to use my garlic or lemon infused rapeseed oil)
juice from 1 lemon
1 onion
2 carrots
4-5 cloves of garlic
2tbsp tomato puree
1tsp ground cinnamon
a bunch of fresh oregano, chopped (can be substituted with 1tbsp dried oregano)
600g minced lamb (or beef or turkey if you want make it a bit healthier)
1 veggie stock cube
black pepper, salt
big bunch of flat leaf parsley
400g can of chopped tomatoes 

2 eggs
200g full fat Greek style yoghurt
100g feta cheese

Finely chop carrots, onions and garlic. Sautee in 1/2 tbsp oil for a few minutes until onions turn translucent. Add the minced meat, cinnamon, oregano, black pepper and tomato puree and sautee for another few minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, the stock cube and about half of the parsley. Leave to cook slowly for at least 40 minutes stirring every now and then. If it turns very thick, add some more water. While the meat is cooking, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Slice the aubergines into about 1cm thick slices lengthwise. Mix the remaining 1.5 tbsp oil and the juice from the lemon, and brush onto the slices. Season with salt and pepper, and bake in one layer for about 15 minutes. You need to do this in a few batches, or on several baking trays if you have a fan oven. Let cool. When meat has cooked, add in the rest of the parsley. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and start with a layer of aubergine slices. Add the meat and top with another layer of aubergines. Mix the eggs and yoghurt, and spread on the aubergines. Crumble feta (or other cheese of choice) on top. Bake for about 45 minutes in 200 degrees, cover with foil if aubergines turn too dark (which, as you see from the picture below, I couldn't be bothered to do).

Aubergine pizzas (serves 1-2):
1 aubergine
1tbsp oil
salt, pepper
tomato puree (or ketchup if you don't mind the sugar and other nasty additives)
basil and oregano (fresh and chopped or dried)
tuna and tomatoes, or whichever other pizza filling you fancy (roast peppers, salami and chilli, ham and pineapple, let the world be your oyster or prawn...)
feta (or some other cheese, I would happily use cheddar, blue cheese, maybe brie)

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Slice the aubergine lengthwise into about 1cm slices. Drizzle some oil (I like to use a silicone brush to brush a very thin layer of oil on the slices) and lightly season with salt and pepper. Grill in the oven for about 10 minutes. Add tomato puree, herbs and pizza topping of choice and finish off with cheese on top. Bake in oven for another 15 minutes or so, until the cheese is golden. Serve with a fresh salad.

Sad detox pizzas with no cheese.
Happier cheat pizzas with tuna, tomato and feta.
Aubergine steaks (serves 1-2):
1 aubergine
salt, pepper
1 ball of mozzarella
fresh basil

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C. Slice the aubergine into round discs about 1cm thick. Drizzle some oil, season with salt and pepper and grill in oven for about 10 minutes. Add a slice of mozzarella, some basil leaves and a slice or two of tomato on half of the aubergine discs, put the other half on top to make stacks, and top off with a bit of mozzarella. Bake for about 15 minutes or so, until cheese turns golden. Serve with a fresh salad, or as sides for a main meal.

The verdict:
As I wrote above, I love the moussaka. Sure, it's a bit of work, but it's definitively worth it. And there is no doubt about it, lamb mince is much better than beef. For taste at least, not necessarily for nutritional profile. 

The mini pizzas are great for a pizza craving, it is surprising how little you pay attention to the fact that the crust is just aubergine. Like I said before, the combination of tomato puree, ketchup and oregano (and cheeeeese) makes it surprisingly pizza-esque. And it's convenient if you cook for many people, everyone can have their favourite topping on theirs. No more debates about garlic vs. no garlic, tuna vs pepperoni or cheddar vs. mozzarella. 

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