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Monday, March 5, 2012


Berejenas in the Vega Market
Photo by: Lord-Williams

berenjena, OCat albergíni, L. Solanum melongena Ar. bādinjān, Pers borā, Fr. aubergine, Eng. eggplant (US), aubergine (Eng). In the US it is named for its shape, while in Arabic it means “apples of love”. 

Botanically they are legumes, and considered to be plants and their roots and leaves have been used for flavoring in Oriental Cooking, it is the oval, dark purple fruit that is considered normally and is classified as such. They look more like a squash or a gourd. 

Eggplants are native to India and spread to China by the 5th C. Arabs had taken the eggplant to northern Africa, via Iran, by beginning of the Middle Ages. 

In Baghdad, they were considered an exotic fruit in spite of some resistance in other areas. Men in Bali, for example, refused to eat them as they were thought to kill sexual excitement. In Turkey, on the contrary, an Imam (Muslim religious leader), after a long fast, fainted upon seeing them. As they came to be called Imam Bayildi (literally “Imam fainted” but now mean vegetarian stuffed eggplant), it is assumed that he recovered, ate them stuffed and then satisfied his entire concubine. 

By the middle of the 10th C several eggplant dishes were invented but it was claimed that Lady Būrān made them, using the recipes for what are now called buraniyya. Būrān was the nickname of Khajida who celebrated her sumptuous wedding with Caliph al-Ma’mūn in 825. Although it is known that exotic food was served, no descriptions survive, but it is surmised that eggplant was included. 

During the Arab occupation the plant was introduced and adopted in Spain from Persia or Yemen. Another theory is that the Jews introduced it to the Iberian Peninsula in the 1st C A.D. After Spaniards accepted the eggplant, it became the most consumed product during the Muslim rule. 

Andalusian cookery in the later stages of Arab domination became known as the “Eggplant Period” (11th -15th C). It was during this great eggplant bonanza, to the surprise of the guests, a Sheikh once served eight courses of eggplant as the main ingredient. This was unique as no one ever thought an entire meal could be based on one product. Eggplant recipes were infinite including eggplant dips, cakes, sausages, isfîriyâ (the forerunner of the Spanish omelet, see buñuelos) as per one of Fadalat’s 22 eggplant recipes, they were scaled, and served parboiled in innumerous salads or stuffed with mixtures of apples, meat, breadcrumbs, fish, etc. Eggplants can be boiled, fried, baked, or cooked over charcoal. It can be eaten whole, sliced, minced or pureed. It can be presented cold, warm or hot. Served in any way, it never looses its flavor. In short, it is cheap, daily nourishment presented on the poor man’s table as well as banquet material. Eggplant dip reached Cordova during the caliphate in the 11th C, where crowded noisy restaurants in Al-Andalus came to be called berenjenales. Although called a salad, eggplant dip was served with toast as today. Taking into account 

Spanish utilization of this fruit, it is surprising that India and the Far East remained the largest consumers. In the Anon Andalus, 63 recipes either call for eggplant as an ingredient or are recipes for eggplant. In Spain, it was classified as an erotic stimulant. As noted in Don Quixote, the eggplant was thought of as a Muslim dish and fell into disuse with the Christian conquest of Andalusia. On one hand it is claimed that by the 13th C the eggplant was known in other European countries but met resistance for its reputation of being a powerful love potion. At that time, some called it Mala insana, or “mad Apple” because they thought that by eating it, people were driven to insanity. On the other hand the consumption of eggplant in Europe outside of Spain is not documented until 1570 when included in a menu for Pope Pius V but it was barely known in the rest of Europe until the 17th C. Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, took the first eggplants to the U.S in the beginning of the 19th C. See alboronía. [Anón/Grewe. 1982:CXXXVIIII:166-167:CLI:169.CLII:169-170:CLIII:170-171 etc; Anón/Huici.1966:73:52-53:74:53:154:101-102 etc; Benavides-Barajas. Nueva-Clásica. 1995:136; Bolens. Cuisine. 1990:34:36; Gancedo. 1994:171; Gázquez. 2002:118; Gitlitz. 1999:xiv:48; and Ibn Razīn/Granja.1960:361:29; and Ibn Razīn/Marín. 2007:35:268-277]

For 4 persons


Nutty Stuffed Veggies
Photo by JulyJules 
2 eggplants (approx 1 kg, 2 lbs)
1 small onion
1 garlic clove mashed
olive oil
2 tbsp almond slivers
1 tbsp freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan Cheese
1 egg
2 tbsp chopped parley
1 tsp chopped mint
1 tbsp chopped marjoram (or less if dried)
1 tbsp raisins chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 c almond milk (see recipe in almejas, published August 10th, 2011)


Parboil the eggplants in salt water for about 10 minutes, or until the skin begins to wrinkle. Drain, halve and scoop out most of the flesh, leaving 1/8”. Reserve the skins, and transfer flesh to food processor.

Heat oil in a frying pan and toast almond slivers, Chop onion finely and fry it with the garlic in the same oil until soft and transparent.

PREHEAT OVEN 400º F / 200º C

Add onion and garlic to food processor together with egg and grated cheese, blend to a smooth puree Add herbs, almonds and raisins season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spoon this puree back into the reserved skins. Place in a shallow greased heatproof dish, pour almond milk over it and bake about 20 minutes or until heated through. Grill for 5 minutes until browned.

1 comment:

  1. There seems a very promising chapter about "berenjenas" is coming! Eggplant is very common in Mediterranean cuisines like Italy, France, not to speak of Greece, Turkey, Israel or the North of Africa. In Spain Andalucia is by far the place where they continue to know more recipes (specially in Cordoba). The expression "meterse en un berenjenal" is quite common, but I did't know it came from these popular inns. I had heard of another explanation: that been the plantations of eggplant very intricated, it was very difficult to get out of them (which I can testify it's true).I didn't know either of the procedure of parboiling the eggplant. I used to roast it directly. I'll try next time this way. Thank you, Susan!