It takes a bit of coaxing to bring people around to steaming aubergines, as opposed to roasting or frying them. Gitai Fisher, who is a colleague in our test kitchen and a fan of aubergines with a bit of a tan on them, was a particularly hard nut to crack. He was brought around after tasting this dish, where the aubergines are, indeed, pale but they are also fantastically silky and have an admirable ability to soak up the aromas of chilli, garlic and ginger like happy sponges.
The charred chilli salsa can be doubled or tripled and kept in a glass jar in the fridge for up to a week, ready to be spooned over scrambled eggs, piled onto tortilla chips, or served alongside grilled tofu or fish. The aubergines should be steamed just before serving, because they tend to discolour if left to sit around.
4 as a side
2 aubergines (700g)
1–2 spring onions, trimmed and julienned (15g)
1½ tbsp ready-roasted and salted almonds, roughly chopped
1 tbsp coriander leaves, roughly chopped
flaked sea salt
Charred chilli salsa:
2 large, mild red chillies (30g)
140g Datterini cherry tomatoes (or another ripe, sweet cherry tomato), finely chopped
1½ tsp sherry vinegar, plus ½ tsp to serve
Garlic and ginger oil:
40ml olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, very finely chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
1. For the salsa, place a frying pan on a high heat. Once the pan is very hot, add the chillies and cook for about 10 minutes, turning a few times until well charred on all sides. Transfer to a small bowl, cover with a saucer and leave to soften for 10 minutes. Deseed one of the chillies (or both, for less heat), then finely chop them, along with the skin. Place in a bowl with the tomatoes, vinegar and ¼ teaspoon of flaked salt, stir together and set aside.
2. For the garlic and ginger oil, put all the ingredients into a small pan with ½ teaspoon of flaked salt and place on the lowest heat. Cook very gently for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the garlic and ginger soften when mashed with the back of a spoon. Make sure not to heat the oil too much or the garlic will burn: if the oil does start to bubble, just remove it from the heat until it cools.
3. Cut the aubergines into 7cm x 2cm batons, then toss them together with 2 tablespoons of flaked salt in a large bowl. Transfer to a steaming basket (or colander which can sit over a large saucepan) and set aside.
4. Fill a large saucepan with enough water to rise 4cm up the sides. Bring to the boil on a high heat, then place the steamer (or colander) in the pan. Cover with the lid or seal well with foil, to prevent the steam escaping. Reduce the heat to medium and steam for 20–25 minutes, or until the aubergines are very soft but still hold their shape. Lift the steamer off the pan and transfer to the sink to drain for 5 minutes.
5. Transfer the drained aubergines to a large platter, drizzle over the remaining ½ teaspoon of vinegar, and season with ¼ teaspoon of flaked salt. Add the spring onions and gently mix them through. Spoon over the salsa, then drizzle over the garlic and ginger oil. Finish with the almonds and coriander and serve.