Grilled aubergine in coconut and lime sauce
A friend who lives in an inner-city apartment has been telling me about his allotment, only 10 minutes' walk from his home, where he grows heirloom vegetables, redcurrants, horseradish, sorrel and dahlias. In the past he has grown fennel, tomatoes and most of the culinary herbs known to man. After finishing work at my City Market, itself a celebration of all things local, I decided to take a look for myself.
The Tanera Park Community Garden has been run by the Mokai Kainga Maori Centre since 1990. Sprays are banned, all fertilisers must be organic and garden waste is turned into compost. The garden is maintained by those on community service and the 62 plots sit hidden like a secret jewel within the city.
The late afternoon sun sets on the houses like it does on a Greek isle. There is an air of calm in the gardens, which have stunning views across to Mt Victoria, and wandering between the 3m x 3m plots is like traversing a moveable feast, providing a connection to others and the land. Occasionally, people steal things, but they tend to leave gifts of other plants as a form of koha.
Nearly every plot has crops of beans and tomatoes; some have lettuces going to seed and pumpkins starting to come through. On others, small figs are ripening and strawberries peek from under a canopy of borage flowers. A truss supports a tangle of near-flawless purple-black aubergines, and reminds me I haven't made the most of them this season.
I'm not ready to say goodbye to summer just yet, and so with the latest run of warm weather I've taken out the barbecue again. Cook aubergine until the flesh is meltingly soft, otherwise it can be like eating sodden sponge. I served this dish with grilled lamb chops.
- Remove the aubergines' stalks, then slice the flesh into 2cm-thick slices.
- Peel the hard outer layer from the lemongrass, then slice the bottom of the stalk finely, stopping when it feels woody and the knife meets stern resistance.
- Seed the chilli and peel the garlic and ginger. Place them in a food processor with the lemongrass. Process until smooth, then add the coconut cream and fish sauce.
- Stir in the lime zest and juice and the coriander, then process for 30 seconds to make a smooth paste.
- Place the aubergine slices in a shallow container and pour the coconut mixture over the top.
- Toss everything together to make sure the slices are well-coated, then set aside for at least an hour. Heat the grill or a ridged pan.
- Grill the slices until a crust forms - about 15 minutes.
- Turn the slices over, then grill briefly on the other side - 2-3 minutes - until they soften. Serve warm.