Warmed by the cupboard’s contents

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Nigel Slater’s hot, smoky aubergine and bean bake is just the thing to lift spirits on a cold evening.

The cry goes out to "stay home", and I do. The odd bunch of herbs or green vegetables aside, dinner comes from the cupboard. There is not a packet or storage jar whose contents I haven’t looked at hoping for inspiration. I know every bean, lentil and grain of rice in the larder, and so I should. My favourite dinner this week was the one where I baked black-eyed beans — beautiful ivory pulses with a charcoal eye — with fat "banana" shallots, aubergines and tinned tomatoes, whose fiery seasoning of Korean chilli paste helped us feel better as we looked out on yet another wet, locked-in winter’s day.

That rust-red aubergine bake came under a crumble-crust of coarse sourdough crumbs freckled with thyme and citrus zest. Everyday — you might even say dull — larder ingredients were transformed into a supper that well and truly lifted our spirits. I griddled the aubergines first (a 10-minute job) to introduce a smoky note to the scarlet sauce, but I could have just as easily fried them in a pan — only long enough for them to soften before they met the rest of the dish. There is little I like more than the silky, oily flesh of an aubergine that has softened in a spice-laden sauce. 

Baked aubergines with gochujang and beans

The amount of chilli paste you use is up to you — I suggest you taste as you go. I start with 1 level Tbsp then increase it by just a little until the heat level seems right. Much will depend on your paste, but it is wise to assume that the darker red the paste, the hotter it will be. At least, that is my experience. The sugar I include is really just a pinch, but it seems to calm the more aggressive notes of the paste. Leave it out if you wish.

Serves 4-6

450g Aubergines

400g shallots (banana) large

3 Tbsp olive oil

4 cloves garlic

2 level Tbsp gochujang (red chilli paste)

2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

2 x 400g cans black-eyed or haricot beans

1 Tbsp thyme leaves

a pinch of sugar

For the crust:

100g white bread

2 Tbsp thyme leaves

1 Tbsp (1-2 limes) lime or lemon zest, grated

5 Tbsp olive oil


1. Remove the stems from the aubergines. Slice each aubergine in half lengthways. If you are using large ones, then cut each one lengthways into 1cm thick slices. Heat a griddle pan, then cook the aubergines cut side down for 5 minutes over a moderate heat until they are showing good colour before turning them over. Cook the other side for a further 5 minutes, then remove to a bowl. Cover with a lid — the steam they produce will help them to soften them further.

2. Peel, halve and roughly chop the shallots. Warm the oil in a deep, heavy-based casserole, then let the shallots cook over a low to moderate heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and pale gold. Peel, thinly slice and stir in the garlic.

3. Stir in the gochujang, the tomatoes and their liquid and the black-eyed beans and their canning liquid. Stir in the thyme leaves, a little salt, the sugar and the aubergines. Simmer for 10 minutes, then transfer to a deep baking dish. I use one measuring 24cmx16cm.

4. Set the oven at 200degC. Process the bread to coarse crumbs, either in the food processor or by hand with a coarse-toothed grater. Mix them with the thyme leaves and the grated lime or lemon zest.

5. Pour over the olive oil and toss to coat. Scatter over the surface of the beans and tomatoes. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the crumb crust is crisp and the filling is bubbling around the edges.

 — Guardian News & Media

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