Essentially Aubergines
by Nina Kehayan
Publisher: Grub Street, Country: UK
ISBN: 9781906502867, Edition: reprint, Year: 2010
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Review

Single ingredient cookbooks are often authorless compilations of dull recipes, sold at bargain prices as little more than stocking fillers. Nina Kéhayan’s Essentially Aubergines is definitely in a different class of cookbook, but still not quite living up to its aspirations. First published in French in 1988 as Voyages de l’aubergines and then in English a number of times, most recently in paperback in 2010, this is a voyage through aubergine (eggplant) dishes from far and wide.

The introduction by the author is a rather meandering narrative of the story of her family and of the aubergine. Following this are a few cooking tips and advice about the recipes. The recipes are numerous — more than 140, covering everything from pickles to hot and cold starters, side dishes, mains with meat, fish or eggs, and one preserve. Whether you’re interested in aubergines marinated in fennel, aubergine terrine with anchovies, ratatouille niçoise, aubergines with tamarind, or aubergine jam, there are certain to be delights and surprises. What Essentially Aubergines might not achieve is to convert the sceptical to eating this rather bland vegetable. Lacking any photos or particular encouragement to try certain dishes (there is no narrative or context in the body of the book, so the recipes form a simple, dry series), this is a book for the cook who is already interested in aubergines or for those readers who don’t mind just picking a recipe and giving it a go.

The recipes come from many corners of the world, but the author is inconsistent in the labelling of them. With few exceptions, the recipes have an English or French name, and most state the country of origin, but only a minority give the original name of the dish. The index reflects the book’s French origins, with two lists of recipes, one organised by chapter, the other by type of recipe. All entries use the (mostly) English titles, so finding baba ghanoush requires mentally reanalysing it into “Aubergine Tahini Caviar”, while the Ratatouille Niçoise is easy to find under that name, as long as you realise it’s classified as a “meatless entrée”.

Essentially Aubergines should have been a better book, providing at least a little information about the different varieties of aubergines, and perhaps some additional guidance in choosing recipes — if you’re unlucky enough to flip through the book and find (for instance) four deep-fried aubergine recipes in a row, it becomes a little discouraging. Nonetheless, if you know an aubergine lover (I’ve heard they exist), this is likely to be a welcome gift.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 3 stars. Recommended – some flaws
Visual appeal: Unimpressive
Suitability as a gift: If the person is really interested
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