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February 26, 2013

it undulates on the waves and crushes the water | aubergine pickle

Sometimes, the universe dictates exactly when you will make a new recipe. Ever since reading the lovely Jay's recipe for aubergine pickle, it's been on the to do list in the back of my mind. At the time, it was spring, heading into early summer, and aubergines weren't available in our part of the country. More recently: late summer, early autumn, I remembered the pickle recipe when I saw Taste Nature had aubergine on special. Thanks to the small amount of data I have on my phone, I located the recipe and purchased all the necessary ingredients, planning to make aubergine pickle in the next day or two.

It wasn't meant to be. The aubergine and capsicum sat in the fridge over the weekend. That weekend was a particularly full one, involving a full day in the lab as well as enjoying the sun (and helping make some earth bricks) out in Osbourne. I cycled home from the lab on Saturday to find J wrapping hot dishes in towels for the 20 minute drive out of the city. We arrived at T and L's lovely nearly-completed abode overlooking the inlet just as the sky was beginning to turn pink. We ate dinner as the sun set. To see pictures of the amazing view and also of the house in progress, have a look at T and L's awesome blog and housebuilding diary

Eventually, it got dark enough for the lantern to be switched on and L taught J and I some of her pilates moves to stretch our muscles before the lantern was switched off and all was quiet and dark. I slept under the window on the mezzanine floor and could see the stars outside. I felt overwhelmingly grateful to live in a city in which a short drive from the CBD takes you to a place as beautiful as Purakānui, where the stars are bright and so much more visible than from Maitland, and where the night is so silent, save for the occasional "baaa" of sheep.

As I was drifting off to sleep, I realised that a year ago, I didn't know J or T or L or Maitland St. I was newly back in Aotearoa, 7kg below my normal weight, and with about 20% of my usual energy levels. And while 2012 was a difficult year for me in many ways, I realised then that I do quite enjoy where it led me, because right now, life is pretty wonderful. I'm grateful for our Maitland St home and for being lucky enough to meet inspiring individuals such as T, L and J; who've given me experiences that enabled me to fall back in love with this city I live in, this city that is home. As 2012 drew to a close, I often thought of a wise woman's words: "bloom where you are planted". I'm not sure if I'm "blooming" just yet, but I'm well on the way. I also know that happiness and contentment can change like seasons do, but that's all the more reason to continue to take pleasure in the moments right now. I went to sleep smiling, and slept better than I had in a while.

When we returned to the city and reality on Sunday night, the aubergine and capsicum were redirected into the best gourmet vegetarian burgers, and I put aubergine pickle out of my mind. As it happened, L returned home about a week later with five large gifted aubergine going wrinkly, requiring immediate use. How could I not make aubergine pickle?

aubergine pickle

I modified the recipe both to increase the amount and to compensate for some ingredients I was missing. Jay's version, the original, looks much darker than what I ended up with. If you've only got one aubergine to use, you can scale down this recipe, or use the original. I have modified the spices slightly, added lemon juice, and I didn't add any rapadura/sugar. If you scale this recipe down and plan to eat it straight away, you can just keep the pickle in a jar/container in the fridge - in which case, ignore the instructions for bottling.

3 large aubergine
2 red capsicums
2 onions
3 cloves garlic
2cm ginger root
1 red chili (fresh; optional)
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried chili flakes
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp coriander root (chopped)
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup coriander leaves
500mL apple cider vinegar
sea salt and cracked pepper
1 tbsp olive oil (or more)

Cut the prickly tops off the aubergine, and slice in half. Cut the seeds out of the capsicum and cut into thirds. Place on a roasting tray and roast for 20-40 minutes at ~200ºC or until soft. Let cool, then peel off the skin - try and retain as much of the aubergine flesh as possible. 

Whizz the roasted capsicum and aubergine together in batches in a blender so they are roughly combined but not as smooth as a paste. In the meantime, chop the onions finely, heat some olive oil and cook on medium heat until the onions are very soft. Don't be tempted, as I was, to only chop the onions into chunks - large pieces will remain in your pickle at the end. 

Grate the ginger and garlic and add to the onions with the ground spices, coriander seeds and root, and chopped, deseeded fresh chili. Add the aubergine and capsicum flesh, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously. 

Add the apple cider vinegar and stir through, then simmer on a medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes. While this is cooking, thoroughly wash some glass jars and their lids. At Maitland we re-use any glass jars, but are particularly fond of ones with screw top lids that have a poppable button in the middle. Bake the jars for 20 minutes at a low heat (around 125-150ºC) - ensure you are using good quality glass. If any glass goes cloudy or browny or cracks in the oven, do not use that jar and put it in your recycling.

Add the coriander and mint leaves to the pickle, and some sea salt and pepper to taste. You can adjust the consistency with olive oil, and add more mint or coriander leaves once its cooled. If you're bottling some for long term storage, it is important that the glass jar, the pickle and the lid are all hot when sealed. I keep the pickle on a medium heat, and keep the jars in the oven and take them out one at a time to fill. Right before I do this, I boil the jug and put the lids in a stainless steel bowl and cover them with just boiled water to sterilise them. 

Carefully remove the jar from the oven, trying to avoid touching the top or neck of the bottle. Instead, hold jars from the base with a tea towel or, preferably, an oven mitt. Spoon pickle into hot jar, squashing it down to remove any bubbles. Fill to the neck of the jar. Use a clean fork to fish the lid out of the boiled water and use the tea towel to tightly screw the lid on whilst still hot. Repeat this process until all the pickle is used. 

As the pickle and the jar cools, you'll know that a seal has been formed if and when the lid button pops down. Any jars that don't pop down haven't correctly sealed and you'll need to keep them in the fridge and consume immediately. Sealed jars will keep for ages - the vinegar is a preservative - and sometimes, the flavour is much better after 3 months of standing at room temperature. 

Luckily, I had two large jars and one small jar successfully seal, one jar didn't pop down and the left overs went into half a jar that also didn't seal. The two large jars will rest in the pantry until winter, and the small jar was given to a preserve-making colleage L. One of the jars that didn't pop down has formed the basis of my work lunches for this week, and the half jar is in the process of being consumed at Maitland.

This pickle is delicious. It's good as it is, and I can believe that three months of resting will make it even more incredible. In addition, eating aubergine pickle in June will be extra pleasurable for the luxury that is summer vegetables in winter. Everyone who's tried this pickle so far has enjoyed it, even a couple of workmates who don't eat much aubergine. My favourite way to eat it? On top of a cheese toastie at lunch or with cheese and spring onion on top of a corn cracker, as pictured.


In other news, which is unrelated to aubergine pickle, but may be of interest to food-interested readers, one of my bestest friends, and lovely person Ayla, has just launched her food and wine blog, Taste Flutter, today. She's extremely knowledgeable about food and wine and always feeds me well when I visit her, and she's also hilariously funny when she writes. Have a look!


day 11/365
today I'm grateful for endorphins - getting me up in the morning and into the pool before 7:30am. Those who know how much of a morning person I'm not will understand how big that is for me! Now, it's late in the day and I've just cycled home via the climbing gym. My muscles are tired - I will sleep well tonight!

title from kings of convenience - my ship isn't pretty


  1. i love pickles ... cant wait to read some more of your delicious food adventures!

    1. welcome :-) I love them too, but this was the first attempt at making one myself! x

  2. I have been out of blog land for a little while,so it is (as always) lovely to visit here again...delicious food and beautiful photography. Glad all is well in your world now,G. X

    1. Thanks so much, Judith. I hope I didn't sound too dramatic - I just meant in terms of life's ebbs and flows, ups and downs..currently I'm on an "up" .. x

  3. A lovely story, and that pickle looks delicious! Also, I love how fancy aubergine sounds... so much better than eggplant!

    xox Lilly

    1. I know, I think that aubergine is a really pretty word! I was careful to say aubergine not eggplant. Because when I think of the literal meaning of eggplant, I get a very strange picture in my head..! x

  4. Thank you lovely for the link. Beautiful photos x

    1. No problem Nikki, and thank you x

  5. This post was such a beautiful journey, in so many ways, it felt close and dark and intimate and now I am salivating, hmm it must be time for another batch of eggplant pickle, might try it your way this time ;)

    1. thank you so much for this lovely comment! I didn't mean for it to be so personal, but that's just the way it worked out. Likewise, next time I'm keen to try your exact recipe, I think it'll taste different (in a good way, of course) x