He has a strong character. Not everyone gets along right away with fruit. Bitter, love or hate. For a long time, many noses turned up – and there are those who turn up until now. But this situation is changing. We’re talking about its superiority, eggplant. “My life is not the easiest, but I continue to fight,” read one of the phrases embossed on the advertising banner. Your Excellency, For a long time it was considered bird food. Today, this bitter and misunderstood ingredient occupies a prominent place on the menu not only of bars, but also of good restaurants in BiH. This is the cookie that conquered Brazil. Thanks to the trip of the owner, Olivio Cardoso, to the Ana Maria Braga program in 2012. “Business exploded! Even today, there are people who come from other cities to enjoy our cake,” says the chef. It was so, so successful that it even turned into a carnival procession. “Set / Take the train / Hand on the head / And jump on this block / Let’s eat the Livigno cupcake,” sang revelers on the streets of BiH a year after their appearance on Rede Globo. The recipe, in addition to the consecrated eggplant, uses spinach, oregano and canastra cheese. Opened 18 years ago, the bar, which looks like a backyard, offers other delicacies on the menu, such as roast beef and beef ribs with boiled cassava and salad. “But I always joke that everything can be missing except eggplant cake,” says Olivio.
Long before “Livigno cake” became popular, eggplant was already one of Central Market’s biggest stars. Combined with onion liver, this appetizer is one of the most famous in the capital of the state of Minas Gerais. And this is not an exclusive recipe for one institution. Several bars offer the dish, some even change the meat slightly, as in the case of Fortaleza, which has portions of ham, kebabs and eggplant chorizo. The ultimate icon of Belo Horizonte’s bohemian cuisine originated in the 1960s, when delivery men came to work hungry and picked up two of the most affordable ingredients you could find in the stalls: eggplant and children. “I remember going to the Central Market with my father when I was about 6 or 7 years old to eat liver and eggplant,” says Flavio Trombino, chef at Xapuri, Brazil’s benchmark for Minas Gerais cuisine. Today, in his restaurant, fruits are cooked on a plate with or without cheese, and even in farofa with jerky. “In the past, this was no longer approved. But since gastronomy has gained a place in the media, given the realities, the regional cuisine has received high praise. So people ended up being open to experimentation to discover tastes that had hitherto been discriminated against,” adds Flavio.
Another person who keeps memories of the Central Market is Andre Paganini from Chico Dede. “I remember walking down the corridors and wondering what the smell was that made so many happy people crowd the corridors of that labyrinth called the Market,” he says. It was then that he discovered that the greens that appeared among the grilled meat were eggplants, hated by some and loved by others. “I have always been in love. My relationship has always been a relationship of love. And it all started at home, with the best eggplant farofa in the world, made by my mom.” There, at Paganini’s table, this dish was much more than just a side dish. “Eat with a spoon!” he laughs. Since starting his restaurant four years ago, André has used eggplant in several recipes, such as pork risotto with caramelized eggplant. However, they now appear on the menu in the form of Bernadette’s famous farofa – “obviously not made with the same skill as my mother’s” – and sweet tomato burrata with caramelized eggplant.
If eggplants have long been familiar in the pub world, they are gaining more and more space in some of the capital’s restaurants run by big names. Chef Cayo Soter’s Pakato tasting menu has one out of nine times devoted entirely to eggplant. “I think it’s still a holdover from when I tried to right an injustice in court. It’s an eggplant, poor thing, it’s been ruined by the taste of the Brazilians,” says the chef. “Our taste is more for sweet than bitter, and perhaps for this reason, eggplant is considered one of the worst ingredients in our cuisine,” he explains. To end this prejudice, the chef works wonders in his kitchen. The fruit is placed directly on the fire and then stewed, which helps to retain the texture while still producing a light smoke. It is then topped with a sauce of grain mustard, fermented honey, lemon capet and pepper jam. To top it off, it is stuffed with jabuticaba compote and served with chicken liver muslin. The spiciness of the sauce and the sweetness of the honey balance the bitterness. “In our version, we wanted the fruit to deserve to be at the peak of its development as the protagonist,” Kayo concludes.
It is this prejudice that Chef Mariana Gontijo wants to end. She has a few tricks to convince the gang to try the eggplant. He revealed on the O Roça Grande network the other day that he has a farofa surprise. Everyone ate and was delighted. “If I said it was an eggplant, I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t even try it. Just because you had a bad experience doesn’t mean it should determine your relationship with an ingredient,” he says. And the chef insists on emphasizing the importance of chefs as educators of taste as well. “We have to find ways to present this ingredient in a different way,” he adds. At his restaurant, which operates with a weekly menu, the sickly pops up every time there is a leg load at the family farm in Moeda. Sometimes he comes in this unexpected farofa, sometimes in vinaigrette and even in jam. Maryana argues that the bitterness of the fruit should not disappear completely, because when the characteristic of that food is incorrectly characterized, it loses its meaning, becomes something else. But really soften it so that it is more appealing to a variety of tastes. Mariana learned a trick from her grandmother: chop eggplants in salted water.
Giuliana Duarte from Cozinha Santo Antonio is another woman who opposes masking the bitterness of fruits, but also believes that leaving them in milk for a while will help to please more people. She herself had her own disagreements with the ingredient. “I was very weird with Hilo, I remember it was bird food in my house!” he says. Relations began to improve when Juliana saw in the book “The Imperial Chef” a table of the equivalence of European and Brazilian ingredients. “And eggplant was introduced as a substitute for eggplant! It got my attention,” he says. Until one day the chef gave the chef a breaded version of the fruit. Ready! “I liked it and it made it onto the menu. Today it is a success,” he explains.
And if once it was considered just bird food, today eggplants make a splash in the kitchen, like a ball of time. And, taking advantage of this time travel, it’s time to remember the old saying, from the time of our grandparents: “There is no bad ingredient, there is bad food.”
Hilo is a fruit, not a vegetable
Although many people get confused, eggplant is a fruit, not a vegetable. Jiloeiro is a plant belonging to the Solanaceae family and the Solanum genus. This genus contains about 3,000 species and is distinguished by a large number of vegetables used for food, such as tomatoes and eggplants. Originally from Africa, it came to Brazil in the 17th century at the hands of enslaved peoples. Today it is widely cultivated in Brazil, mainly in the southeast.