The aubergine (or eggplant) isn't the easiest thing to love - but once you've had a good one, you'll be in thrall for life. At its best in high summer, this glossy black Mediterranean fruit never disappoints on the barbecue, but this globetrotting selection of recipes will remind you just why you fell for it in the first place, and maybe win the aubergine a few new converts too.
I was thrilled to learn how to recreate the spicy, sweet and sour flavours of my favourite restaurant's Sichuan aubergines at home, so that's my winner, but it was a tough contest - twinnydip's pretty tomato and aubergine cake would make a lovely picnic, while withmustard's Bengali aubergines were great with flatbreads for a simple Saturday lunch. In fact, I loved all of them. That's the aubergine for you.
The winning recipe: Sichuan aubergines
Serves 2 generously
1 tbsp oil for frying, plus a little extra for drizzling
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp grated ginger
6 spring onions, finely sliced
125ml vegetable stock
75ml rice wine or dry sherry
50ml rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp kuzu starch or cornflour, dissolved in 1 tbsp of water
25ml tamari sauce
A handful of coriander, chopped
50g peanuts, chopped
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Cut the aubergines into quarters horizontally, and cut each quarter into 6, so that you end up with roughly thumb-sized pieces. Place on a baking tray, drizzle with a little oil, and bake for 30 minutes until golden, making sure they don't burn.
2 Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan or wok, add the garlic, chilli and ginger in the remaining oil for a minute or so. Add two thirds of the sliced spring onions and fry for another minute, then add the stock, rice wine, vinegar, sugar and kuzu. Bring to the boil, stirring, and allow to thicken. Add the tamari and simmer for a few minutes, then taste and add a little more if needed.
3 When the aubergines are ready, stir them into the sauce and gently reheat if necessary. Serve sprinkled with the chopped coriander, the remaining spring onions, peanuts and sesame seeds.
There are many different versions of this classic Corsican dish; this is my take. It's good with a bowl of pasta and olive oil, but I think I prefer it with a green salad and some crusty bread.
Betty Bee via GuardianWitness
2 slices of bread
50g dry-cured ham, finely chopped
100g gruyère or strong cheddar, grated
100g parmesan, grated
2 sprigs parsley, chopped
2 sprigs basil, chopped
2 sprigs mint, chopped
For the tomato sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tbsp tomato puree
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 Plunge the aubergines into a large pan of boiling, salted water and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and cool. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
2 Soak the bread in the milk, then squeeze out the excess liquid, leaving a paste.
3 When the aubergines are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh, leaving the skin intact. Squeeze the liquid out of the flesh then roughly chop and combine with the ham, soaked bread paste, cheeses and egg. Mix in the fresh herbs, season and use this mixture to stuff the aubergine skins.
4 Bake the aubergines for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the sauce: fry the garlic and onion in the oil until golden but not browned. Stir in the rosemary, tomato puree, chopped tomatoes and sugar then cook for about 15 minutes. Season and serve with the aubergines.
Nasu dengaku (miso aubergine)
This dish gets its name from the Japanese spring rice-planting celebrations, where dengaku performers play games on stilts, and food is served on pairs of skewers meant to resemble the stilts. I managed to squeeze the sauce recipe out of the chef from my favourite sushi restaurant.
foodforaking.co.uk via GuardianWitness
Vegetable oil, to fry
80g red miso
2 tsp mirin rice wine
1½ tbsp sugar (or 1 tsp if using white miso)
1 Cut the aubergine into medium cubes and sprinkle with salt. Leave for 10 minutes to sweat, then wash and pat dry.
2 Heat 2cm oil in a small frying pan and fry the aubergine cubes in batches, turning during cooking, until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper to remove any excess oil.
3 Mix the miso, mirin, sugar and 2 tbsp water in a small pan and heat gently, being careful it doesn't burn.
4 Mix the hot sauce with the aubergine and serve sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Thousand-layer aubergine cake with yoghurt topping
Aubergine's mild savoury flavour is perfect in this sweet tomato cake, which is great as a light main course or a summery side dish. All the effort will be worth it when you cut it and reveal how pretty it looks inside!
twinnydip (twinnydip.blogspot.co.uk) via GuardianWitness
Makes 1 small loaf
2 aubergines, cut into thinnish discs
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to grease
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 sprigs rosemary leaves and stalks
1 shallot, chopped
15ml red wine vinegar
For the batter
10g brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
10g baking powder
35ml olive oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
50ml white wine
3 tbsp tomato puree
For the yoghurt topping
1 tbsp cold water
150g full-fat Greek yoghurt
1 egg, beaten
30g parmesan or pecorino, grated
30g toasted pine nuts (optional)
1 Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Put the aubergine slices on lined, greased baking trays. Mix 1 tbsp olive oil and the lemon juice and brush on to the aubergine slices. Add the rosemary stalks and leaves, season and bake for 20 minutes until softened but not brown. Remove and discard the stalks.
2 Generously grease a small loaf tin, then line it with the aubergine slices and set aside to cool.
3 Heat the remaining tbsp of olive oil in a small frying pan and cook the shallot for about 2 minutes at medium heat. Add the vinegar, and cook for a further 2-3 minutes until the vinegar has been absorbed. Set aside to cool.
4 Make the batter: mix the flour with the sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the olive oil, eggs, wine and tomato puree, then stir in the shallot. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
5 Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the batter is just set and lightly reddish-brown on top.
6 Meanwhile, mix the cornflour with 1 tbsp water and 1 tbsp yoghurt, then stir in the remaining yoghurt, followed by the beaten egg and half of the grated cheese. Spread this evenly over the top of the cake and sprinkle the remaining cheese and pine nuts on top.
7 Bake for a further 20 minutes or until the topping is just set and lightly golden brown.
Aubergine and butter bean soup
Makes 1.5 litres
2 medium aubergines
Olive oil, to cook
4 garlic cloves
2 tsp runny honey
1 onion, chopped
400g tin of butter beans, drained
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 litre hot chicken or vegetable stock
1 Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Prick the aubergines all over, slice in half lengthways and lay cut-side down in a lightly oiled baking dish. Put the unpeeled garlic cloves in too. Bake for 15 minutes, then add the honey and swirl around, making sure the garlic isn't burning. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until the aubergines are soft and wrinkly (it happens to us all!).
2 When the aubergines are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and chop the flesh roughly. Squeeze the garlic from its skin and do the same. Do not wash the tin.
3 Fry the onion in a little more olive oil until soft, then add the aubergine, garlic and drained beans and fry gently for 2 minutes.
4 Add 500ml hot water to the sticky honey and aubergine pan and stir well to deglaze. Add to the aubergine mix along with the lemon juice.
5 Pour on the stock and simmer for another 10 minutes, then whizz with a hand blender, adjust the seasoning and serve with croutons.\
Begun pora (burnt aubergines)
This is the Bengali version of a dish popular across the whole Indian subcontinent. Best eaten with hot, puffed-up rotis, straight from the oven.
100g tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and diced
100g red onion, diced
A handful of coriander leaves, roughly torn
2-3 tbsp mustard oil, to taste
1 Cook the aubergines whole over a barbecue or under a grill until the skins are blackened and charred, turning regularly so the flesh cooks evenly. (Alternatively, bake in an oven at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 1 hour, turning halfway, but you'll miss out on that smoky flavour.)
2 When the aubergines are cool enough to handle, split the skin and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Add the tomatoes, red onion and coriander and season to taste.
3 Finally, add the mustard oil. If you are new to mustard oil, I'd suggest starting with 2 tbsp and seeing if you like the flavour. For more of a kick add 3 tbsp - some Bengalis may need to add 4!
These Sichuan aubergines are spicy, sweet and sour all at the same time. Photograph: Kim Lightbody for the Guardian