Aubergine, eggplant, brinjal, melanzana, berenjena or even the mad apple; the many names of this plant represent the long history of how it spread around the world. It is the only vegetable, (well fruit really) in the nightshade family that does not come from the Americas. The aubergine was first cultivated in tropical Asia around 500 AD, from there it spread to India and was brought to the Mediterranean by the Arabs and finally reached France and England in the 16th Century. By far the most common varieties now grown in Europe are the large deep purple and black varieties but there are hundreds more and they come in all shapes, sizes and colours: black, purple, yellow, green and white. Long and thin, short and round, from massive ones weighing up to 2kg to tiny ones you can pop in your mouth whole.  The small white egg shaped variety is where they got the name ‘eggplant’ and they were often just grown for decoration.

To salt or not to salt?

Just as there are hundreds of different varieties there are hundreds of different ways to cook aubergine. To understand how to cook aubergine it is good to understand its structure. The flesh is like a sponge with thousands of pockets of air, when cooked these pockets break and the flesh collapses and shrinks and you end up with a fine silky mush. If you cook aubergines in fat they quickly soak it all up like a sponge and there are many dishes that utilise this to create a very rich flavour. If you don’t want the aubergine to soak up all the oil it is best to salt it first. Salting is done by slicing the aubergine as required, then sprinkling it with salt and leaving it for an hour. The salt draws out the liquid from the aubergine and breaks down the cell walls so there is less space for the oil to be soaked into. After an hour quickly rinse off the salt and  give the aubergine a little squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible without losing the shape. Now when you fry them they will take on a lovely brown colour on the outside without turning into an oily floppy mess. Originally salting was said to draw out the bitter juices but the aubergines grown in Europe have long since had the bitterness bred out of them, so the only reason to salt them is for the texture and is by no means essential.  Another favourite way to cook aubergines is to grill them whole, check out our recipe below for the rich smoky grilled aubergine dip baba ganoush.

Because aubergines are a tropical plant they don’t actually store that well in the refrigerator. The ideal temperature to store them is around 10ºC and out of the sunlight. But if you don’t have a cool dark place and your house is on the warm side the fridge is probably the best place for them just make sure you use them within a few days.

Organic and GM aubergines

Aubergines are one of the vegetables that often appear on the ‘don’t need to buy organic’ lists. However according to the USDA has found residues of 18 pesticides including known carcinogens, hormone disruptors, reproductive disruptors and honeybee toxins in aubergines. The plants are prone to pests and farmers use a large amount of pesticides to combat them, sometimes spraying the plants up to 80 times per growing cycle. So, as we always recommend, unless you know where they come from and how they are grown, always get organic.

In 2011 India became the first country to file a lawsuit against Monsanto for genetic piracy, claiming that Monsanto stole the genes of 16 native varieties of brinjal (as aubergines are called in India) to create it’s genetically engineered variety, Bt Brinjal. Although criminal charges were never enforced by the Indian government they did place a 10 year ban on using and testing the genetically engineered plants. In 2013 Bangladesh became the first country to approve the Bt Brinjal plants for production. The genetically modified plants are still being tested in the Philippines, where aubergines are the countries primary crop,  and they are expected to be approved for commercial production in the next few years. As you can imagine this is a highly controversial topic and the media are watching the results closely.

The Mad Apple

Aubergines are high in fibre and low in calories (unless you deep fry them of course). They are high in antioxidants and although not particularly high in any one area they have a good overall balance of vitamins and minerals. Like all the nightshade family, aubergines contain the alkaloid solanine. Solanine is one of the plants natural defences and a very small percentage of people are allergic to it. If eaten in extremely large quantities (at least 12 aubergines per person) it can cause nausea, diarrhea and dizziness. This is perhaps why during the Renaissance people believed aubergines could cause insanity and they were given the title ‘mad apple’. Cooking aubergines drastically reduces the solanine content and unless you are allergic to the nightshade family there really is no reason to not enjoy this wonderful bright vegetable in all it’s glorious guises.


Baba Ganoush – A classic smooth and smokey dip


1 medium aubergine
1 heaped teaspoon of tahini (sesame paste)
1 crushed clove of garlic
juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch of salt
sumac (optional)


It’s worth noting that grilling the aubergine this way gives the dip it’s signature rich smokiness, it could also be done on a barbecue or an open wood fire. If you don’t have a gas hob you can do it under the grill in your oven but it wont have quite the same smokey flavour.
Place a wire rack over the top of one of your gas hobbs, preferably the largest one as that will spread the heat evenly over the aubergine. Put the aubergine on the wire rack and set the flame to medium/low. Leave the aubergine there for around 8 minutes (depending on the size of your aubergine and the strength of the flame) Once it has really charred the bottom of the aubergine and it is starting to burst at the skin rotate the aubergine a quarter turn. Repeat this on all sides of the aubergine until the aubergine is completely charred and soft in the middle. Test it with a knife or skewer to make sure it is completely cooked through. This is a slightly messy process and one of the keys is to move the aubergine as little as possible, so be sure it is properly cooked on each side before rotating. Once it is cooked, set on the side to cool completely, then gently peel off all of the charred skin.
Now put the aubergine flesh into a small food processor or a jug for a stick blender, then add the tahini, garlic, the lemon juice and a good pinch of salt. Whizz it all up together until it is silky and smooth. Taste for seasoning. Remember that because of the way garlic works, the garlic flavour will keep getting stronger over the first half an hour, so be careful not to over do it. Garnish it with the a sprinkle of sumac and serve.


Harold McGee – On Food and Cooking

Links to brinjal bt case:

Links for organic/ pesticide use:

Winter Squash

Winter Squash

This autumn we’ve had an abundance of squash, their large leafy vines spread out over our garden leaving colourful fruits dotted everywhere. And now, all the vegetable stalls at the local markets are overflowing with squash of all shapes, colours and sizes. We have been trying out lots of varieties and putting them into all manner of meals. Everyone knows the large orange pumpkins that get carved for Halloween but it seems a lot of people don’t appreciate the variety and versatility of winter squash in the kitchen. In this post we explore the history and some different ways of cooking squash, as well as nutritional benefits and environmental impacts of growing and eating winter squash. 


Winter squash are part of a large family that include cucumbers, melons, gourds and even the bathroom luffah. Winter squash can be distinguished by their hard skin and dense flesh, they are harvested when matured and can be stored for months. Winter squash include pumpkins, butternut and acorn squash to name a few. There are many varieties of winter squash but the names get thoroughly confusing as each variety has a different name all over the world and often even within one country.
Winter squash were domesticated 7000 years ago in Central America where they were first grown exclusively for their seeds as early squash didn’t have much flesh. By the time Christopher Columbus arrived, many varieties of squash were being cultivated all over the Americas. Today, the largest commercial producers of squash include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina.

Winter squash are incredibly versatile and they play a role in cuisines all over the world. You can eat the flowers, the fruit and the seeds. The flesh is firm enough to roast or stew in chunks but once cooked it can easily be pureed to a fine consistency. Their moderate sweetness means they can be used just as well for sweet or savoury dishes. They work wonderfully in moist cakes and comforting stews. Roasted squash goes nicely with toasted nuts like hazel or walnut and the aromatics thyme, sage and fennel. It’s delicious with spices like cumin and coriander as in North African and Middle Eastern dishes and of course with cinnamon, nutmeg and all spice in the classic American pumpkin pie. Or the flavours can work well with coconut and lime for a tropical twist. Because of their tough outer skins and natural hollow interior, pumpkins are fantastic for stuffing, you can even hollow them out and serve a warm soup inside.
The seeds of all pumpkins can be eaten, you just need to separate them from the flesh, rinse them and lightly roast them with a little oil and salt. Store bought pumpkin seeds are from a certain variety that are grown exclusively for their seeds. Because the seeds of this variety develop no outer husk they are are a lot softer and easier to eat.


Winter squash is low in calories and contains large amounts of natural sugars, carbohydrates and vitamin A from Carotene. It is good for circulation and regulating blood sugar levels.
By far the most nutritious part of the squash is the seeds, which are an amazing source of zinc and omega fatty acids. The seeds are also very beneficial in removing intestinal worms. Pumpkin seed oil, which is often sold in pill form at health stores, is said to be good for reducing cholesterol, it’s anti-inflammatory, good for prostate health, urinary and even menopause. We often make our own pumpkin seed butter by simply toasting the seeds and then blending them, you then get all the benefits of the oils in a delicious spread.
The juice of squash is also proven to relieve burns. Adding sweet vegetable like pumpkin and squash to highly mucus- forming foods like milk, yoghurt, kefir, sour cream and other diary also greatly improve digestion.


Winter squash are fantastic vegetables for people that want to eat local produce through the winter months. We had a quick catch up with Joris at Sutton Community Farm, which is a community-owned farm on the outskirts of London providing fresh, local produce and a space to learn skills. Currently at the farm they grow a large selection of winter squash which get included in their vegetable box scheme and sold to local restaurants. For the farmer they are a fantastic crop that is easy to grow with a great yield per square metre. One of the best things about squash is the fact that they keep so well. Some varieties, if stored correctly, will keep up for up to six months. They are best kept in a dry environment, around 15º to 20ºC and away from light. A cupboard in a cool room in the house should work well. The flesh of pumpkins and squash will become sweeter overtime as the starch turns into sugar.
All of this makes winter squash a very environmentally friendly vegetable. However there is a one big environmental issue: the Halloween pumpkins. At Halloween last year 18,000 tons of pumpkin were sent to landfill in the UK alone just three days after Halloween. The pumpkins that are grown for carving at Halloween are grown explicitly for size and, although perfectly edible, not great to eat. The main problem is the way they are disposed because most people don’t compost anymore and very few local councils offer a composting service. Perhaps it’s time someone set up a pumpkin recycling scheme like they do for Christmas trees to turn that 18,000 tons into useful compost rather than landfill.

So although Halloween and Thanksgiving have been, it is still very much the season to be enjoying all the qualities and varieties of winter squash. It is such a diverse vegetable and there are literally thousands of recipes from all over the world that you can create with squash.


Pumpkin and Coconut Tart

This is a recipe Muriel learnt while working at Infinity Foods Cafe in Brighton, it was one of the dishes that was always guaranteed to sell out straight away and has since become a favourite in our household too. Even Arlo, who hates squash, loves these luxurious treats. In this version we have used Delicata and Acorn squash, because they are both very sweet with a lovely silky texture. please note that creamed coconut is not the same as the coconut cream you get in the tins, also if you can get hold of fresh coconut we recommend using that instead, you also get the desiccated coconut in the process. For a quick guide to make your own coconut cream have a look here.
Makes 6 small tarts (if you wish to make one big tart you will need to double all quantities)


1Kg Winter Squash
200g Creamed Coconut
Zest and Juice of one lemon
2 tblsp Maple Syrup (optional)

200g Rolled porridge oats
100g Melted coconut oil
2 tblsp Maple Syrup

Plus 50g of desiccated coconut

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Half the squash lengthways, deseed and place face down on a lightly oiled baking tray. Roast the squash for approximately 40 minutes until really tender, the cooking time will depend somewhat on which squash you use. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little. Meanwhile make the base, combine the oats, coconut oil and maple syrup in a bowl. Divide the mixture between 6 small tart cases and gently press down with the back of a spoon. NB if it feels too crumbly and you would like a smoother base then give the oats a quick whizz in a blender before putting it in to line the cases. Back the bases for 15 minutes in the oven until they have just started turning a nice brown. Remove and allow to cool.
Lay out the desiccated coconut on a baking tray and toast in the oven for a few minutes until it starts to turn brown, keep an eye on this as it will turn from lovely and toasted to black and horrible in a matter of seconds.
Now back to the filling; scoop out the flesh from the squash into a food processor, add the creamed coconut, lemon zest and juice then blend well. Taste the mixture at this point to see if you think it needs maple syrup, different squash have different sugar contents and also peoples tastes are different so use your own judgement here. Divide the mixture between the tart bases and spread it out evenly. Now sprinkle the desiccated coconut over the top and then place the tarts in the fridge for at least 3 hours to set.

If you have enjoyed this post or you have something else to add, please leave us a comment below



Beetroot is one of those vegetables that really seem to divide opinions, you either love it or you hate it. In our house we eat a lot of different soups but a bright purple beetroot soup is the only one we all love, so it gets made a lot. Beetroot is an incredibly versatile vegetable that works both as a savoury and as a sweet, it works raw in salads, roasted whole, fried to crisps, juiced and pickled in kimchi. However you use it, beetroot always adds a massive dose of colour to any plate. It’s available year round and we get through a lot of beetroot. So this month we have spent some time researching the health benefits, environmental issues and best way of using this amazingly colourful root.


The Food Of Love

Beetroot is part of the chard, spinach and samphire family. It was first cultivated over 2,000 years ago but people only ate the leafy tops. The ancient Greeks began using the roots for medicinal purposes and the ancient Romans considered the beetroot an aphrodisiac. This has recently been proven by modern science as beetroot contains large amounts of the mineral boron, which is thought to play a key role in the production of human sex hormones. It wasn’t until the 16th century that beetroot was bred to be the sweet bulbous root we now know. Beetroots come in different colours from white, golden, stripy to the most common deep purple. In the 18th Century during the Napoleonic war, the British enforced a trade embargo on to the French so they could no longer buy sugar canes from the Caribbean colonies. In response the French bred beetroot to maximise sugar content and developed a method of turning the ‘sugar beet’ into sugar granules. Today sugar beets account for 30% of all sugar production.


The Nutrition

A typical beetroot is 9% sucrose, the highest sugar content of all vegetables. However the sugars release slowly into the bloodstream so beetroot has a high glycemic index but a very low glycemic load. Eating sweet vegetables like beetroot lower sugar cravings without the negative effects of refined sugars so it’s a good idea to add them to desserts and your diet in general.

Beetroot is high in fibre, vitamin C and minerals, particularly manganese. Manganese is an essential trace mineral which helps in blood sugar control, energy metabolism, and thyroid hormone function. The pigment that gives beetroot its rich deep colour is called Betalain, it is a powerful anti oxidant and anti-inflammatory.  Beetroot also contains high levels of the essential macronutrient Choline that is part of the B complex vitamin. Choline helps with liver and brain functions, muscle movement and supporting energy levels.

Recent studies show that the high levels of nitrate in beetroot lower blood pressure and may also help to fight heart disease. The nitrates have also been shown to increase blood circulation to the brain, limiting the risks of dementia in old age. The nitrates also improve muscle oxygenation during exercise, which helps with muscle soreness and recovery. So treat yourself to a fresh beetroot juice after cardio exercise.


The Greenest of Vegetables 

Beetroot is one of the most tolerant vegetables that requires very little fertilisers and pesticides making it one of the most environmentally friendly vegetables you can buy.  It is planted from seeds from March onwards and can be harvested from June to November. If stored well in the ground, beetroot will keep until spring. Once it is out of the ground it keeps for 2 to 3 weeks before turning soft. It’s best to store in the cold dark place or in the fridge. In season, fresh beetroot tops are delicious and can be used exactly like chard and spinach, however if you are not going to eat the green tops it is best to cut them off from the roots as they absorb the moisture from the root and make them go soft.

The beetroot plants thrive in a wide variety of climates and soils, making it particularly popular in the cold climates of Eastern Europe, Russia and Scandinavia. Badj has just been on a music tour of Eastern Europe and Russia and everywhere he went they had the beetroot soup called ‘borscht’.  There are as many variations on the borscht recipe as there are families in Eastern Europe. Our favourite and the one we make most often is based on a traditional recipe from our Romanian friend Nicoleta.  The acidity of the fresh tomatoes counters the sweetness and the lemon zest elevates the earthy flavours of the beetroot. A dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche to serve is a must and in Russia and the Ukraine it would always get a sprinkle of dill. 

We hope you have enjoyed the article and try the recipe, please leave a comment we really appreciate your feedback.

Borscht Soup


Borscht recipe


4 x Beetroots (approx 600g)
2 x Carrots (approx 300g)
3 x Fresh Tomatoes
1 x Medium White Onion
2 x Celery Sticks
1 x tsp Lemon Zest
Creme Fraiche
Fresh dill to garnish


Peel and chop all the vegetables and place them all in a pan with the lemon zest. Cover with homemade vegetable stock and season well. Cover the pan and simmer for 45 min or until all the vegetables are cooked. Blend and check for seasoning. Serve hot with a dollop of creme fraiche and the Russians and Ukrainians would definitely put a healthy sprinkle of fresh dill..






Who doesn’t love garlic? We certainly do. It flavors pretty much all the meals we cook and our house often is filled with the smell of garlic simmering in butter, much to our neighbors delight. We eat it raw, cooked, roasted and we love it so much that a few years ago our small vegetable patch was given exclusively to growing garlic. Fresh garlic is now back in season and selling at farmer’s markets. There’s never been a better time to talk about this little vegetable pearl. Garlic is really a little miracle in itself and this is why.


Humans have been cultivating garlic for over 7,000 years, both for food and for medicinal purposes. It originated in China and is part of the Allium family that includes onions, shallots and leeks. The average European consumes 1 and a half cloves of garlic every day, which is nothing, compared to the Chinese who consume a whopping 8 cloves a day. The garlic plant is easy to grow and can be grown year-round in mild climates, however different strains have been bred to suit different climates and may not do so well dependent upon soil type, moisture, latitude and altitude. There are 70 different varieties of garlic found worldwide that can be split into two groups, softneck and hardneck. Softneck varieties (Artichokes, Silverskins, Creoles)  have no flower and a semi hard stalk, they produces many more cloves with a softer grassier taste, they can be planted mechanically and can be stored for longer than the hardneck varieties. This makes them very popular with supermarkets and mass producers.  Hardneck garlic (Porcelain, Rocamboles, Purple Stripe) produces a stiff flower stalk and spicy and well-flavoured cloves. However it doesn’t keep as long as the softneck varieties and requires more care to grow so is typically found at farmers markets and small-scale growers. Generally mass produced garlic varieties are chosen for their productivity rather than their flavor.


Here is the science bit, but we recommend you continue to read on as it could change the way you cook and eat garlic. Garlic is the most pungent of the allium family. Each garlic clove has a high concentration of the enzyme alliinase locked away in little compartments. As soon as you cut or crush garlic the alliinase is released and comes into contact with oxygen and water. This creates a chemical reaction that turns the alliinase into allicin and other pungent types of sulfur. It is the allicin that gives garlic the pungent fiery taste on the tongue. The chemical transformation from alliinase to allicin happens in spurts every 6.5 minutes. It takes a total of 90 minutes for all the alliinase to turn into allicin. So if you are using raw garlic in a dish it will take 90 minutes for the full strength of allicin’s punchy flavour to be reached. When garlic is put into an acidic environment like vinegar, also when it is ingested or cooked, the alliinase enzyme is permanently deactivated so it cannot turn into the pungent sulfur allicin. This is why when you roast whole garlic it doesn’t produce any allicin and hence it has none of that fiery garlic punch. If you want that garlic punch in a cooked dish, you must crushed or chopped the garlic and leave it for 90 minutes to get the most allicin before cooking. However allicin is not a stable compound and will begin to brake down into its component parts. It takes around 45 minutes when cooked and around 5 days at room temperature for it to break down into it’s oil soluble and water soluble compounds. When you eat raw garlic the body breaks down the allicin and it is these compounds that give garlic the majority of its healing properties.


Garlic has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years and is still by far one of the best ways of getting rid of a common cold. More than 160 of the elements that make a bulb of garlic are bioactive, meaning they can affect our body. Garlic has exceptional anti-viral and anti fungal properties and it does not damage the healthful intestinal flora. It is very rich in Vitamin C, which give the immune system a boost but also in Vitamin B6 and Manganese.
Garlic is rich in selenium, which aids the thyroid gland, supports the health of the immune system and prevents DNA damage by limiting the activity of free radicals.
The allicin formed from crushing raw garlic is a very powerful antibiotic that kills bacteria including certain bacteria that have become immune to modern antibiotics such as MRSA staph. It can be used to treat snake bites, get rid of E. coli, kill bacteria on foods and keep cuts and abrasion free of infections but it only works when applied directly to the wound or infection. This is because as soon as you ingest the raw garlic the saliva and stomach break down the allicin into its oil soluble and water soluble compounds. The oil soluble compounds are what gives you garlicky breath. They are a powerful antibacterial that can enter the lymphatic system and they strengthen the immune system by stimulating the body to build antibodies. The oil soluble compounds have also been shown to have success in inhibiting lung, skin and breast cancer. The water soluble compounds of allicin have no antibacterial properties and no smell but have excellent circulatory system benefits including lowering blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides and total cholesterol and inhibits clotting.
Scientists have synthesized these compounds but found they simply did not affect the body in the same way as natural garlic. This is because it is not just the individual elements of the garlic compounds but the way all of them interact together with the body that makes garlic such a powerful medicinal food.


Now, as we already said, China produces at least 75% of all the garlic worldwide. Almost all the garlic in supermarkets comes from China. In the last 15-20 years they have cornered nearly the entire market by producing garlic at incredibly low prices often below the actual cost of growing it, so that no local producers can compete.  The Chinese agricultural industry has taken a lot of flack over the years for it’s poor health standards, wages and dangerous use of banned pesticides. There is very little regulation on organic standards in China and pretty much anyone can put an organic label on their garlic to turn a profit. Furthermore the Chinese garlic is often bleached to make it look nice and white and more often than not it is irradiated to give it a long shelf life and kill off bacteria. Irradiation distorts the DNA structure so it will no longer be able to sprout. The irradiation also prevents the healthful compounds in garlic from forming so it has practically no discernible health benefits. Ouch! So make sure you don’t buy garlic from China. Look for local and organic garlic, particularly the hard stem varieties. Fresh (or wet) garlic is in season at the moment and is a joy for the palate and your health.

Here is a really quick recipe we use all the time for making stir fries. We use plenty of garlic and add the sauce right at the end of cooking the stir fry so the garlic doesn’t burn and it has the full allicin flavour punch. It also makes a wonderful marinade for tofu, that you can slow roast in the oven.

1 bunch fresh coriander
1 red chilli
3 cloves of fresh garlic
1 inch nob of peeled fresh ginger
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp of sesame seed oil
2 tblsp of dark tamari

Put all the ingredients together in a blender and whizz them to a smooth paste, you may need to add a splash of water sometimes. Add it to your stir fry right at the end and cook for a further 5-10 seconds before serving.