Also known as eggplant and brinjal, aubergines are at their best from mid-July to September. Choose from oval, round or sausage-shaped aubergines. They also come in a range of colours - dark purple, through to violet, stripy purple, white, and yellow. Asian grocers are good places to pick up unusual varieties.
Look for smooth, unblemished, and glossy skins. The flesh should also feel firm and the aubergine weighty to the touch. They'll keep for around 4-6 days in the fridge.
Baby aubergines are often cooked whole in curries and South East Asian dishes. They're usually split, not quite through, along the centre, which helps them cook more evenly.
Pea aubergines grow in clusters, and as their name suggests, are little bigger than a mature pea. They have a tart, slightly astringent flavour, and are often used to provide a contrast to richly flavoured meat dishes.
The raw flesh has a spongy texture, and rarely eaten in its uncooked state. More usually, it's fried, grilled, roasted or simmered in casserole-style dish.
IN THE KITCHEN
Although it has taken a while for them to catch on in British cooking, aubergines have long been key ingredients in Asian and Mediterranean cooking.
Fried aubergine slices make great Spanish tapas, while the roasted flesh, when finely chopped is often served as Middle-Eastern mezze. In India, there's a plethora of curries, smoked chilli-flecked pastes (known as bhartha), and fritters coated in gram-flour batter.
French ratatouille and Greek moussaka are just two tasteful classics made with aubergine that have global appeal.
Aubergines pair well with rich, full-bodied ingredients such as ripe tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and peppers. Toasted fennel seeds add an intriguing flourish to casseroles. They also work well with cheese, pulses and meats.
Aubergine flesh becomes pretty squishy and watery when boiled. For a soft whole-cooked aubergine, rub with oil and pop in a pre-heated oven, 200C/ gas 6 for about 25 minutes - until soft when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven, and cut in half along its length, and scoop out the flesh out.
To achieve a smoky flavour without using a barbecue, halve an aubergine along its length, rub all over with olive oil, and cook over a gas flame, turning frequently, (watch your fingers!) until the skin blisters and chars. This should take around 25 minutes over a low heat. Leave the aubergine to cool slightly before scraping off the skin and mashing the flesh with a fork.
Thinly sliced aubergine is well-suited to grilling and char-grilling. Toss the slices with olive oil and scatter over chopped herbs (we like to use thyme leaves), before searing on the barbecue, griddle, or cooking under a grill. Aubergines are rarely peeled before cooking.