I spend so much time in the kitchen that sometimes I like to liken vegetables to celebrities. It helps me engage my mind fruitfully (unintended pun) while going through the largely mechanical motions of everyday cooking. *Mincing onions*: is okra more Jeff Goldblum or Sylvester Stallone (I find him incredibly slimy, don’t ask why)? *Grinding tomatoes*: oooh, fuzzy squash reminds me of Thandie Newton (I don’t dig either). I’ve decided, then, that eggplant is Danny DeVito. It’s a perfect match; if DeVito was a veggie or vice versa, there would be no other comparison. I love them both! The eggplant is a versatile veggie that works well as an entree or a side much like DeVito, who can carry a movie all by himself or shine as the partner cop. You can serve either with a side of rice and I’d gobble it up! Wouldn’t you?
I’ve long been a fan of baingan bharta, which is basically eggplant mush that tastes like heaven. Many restaurants serve it but there seems to be a universal consensus on not roasting the eggplant enough. Most places (and people) serve the dish more reddish than brownish, which means that it hasn’t been given enough time to roast to brownness. I like my vegetables charred if I can help it. Not only does charring or extended roasting improve the flavor of a curry but also gives it a more put-together, less watery appearance. I prepare my eggplant-potato fry (aloo baingan) the same way. A dose of the oven and then slow, extended roasting yields a dish whose velvety, charred taste is beyond compare. I also use tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes for the color and texture I enjoy. Try it, and you won’t go back to the light, watery version ever again.
1 eggplant, cubed (choose one that is firm and seems heavy for its size)
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 red onion, minced or julienned
2 tbsp tomato paste
1″ piece of ginger, shredded
1 clove garlic, grated or minced finely
1 green chilli (optional)
Spice mixture: 1 tsp each turmeric, coriander powder, paprika, fennel powder (optional, but good to have), water
Salt to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil
- Preheat oven at 400. Toss potato and eggplant with a tbsp of oil to coat and bake on a cookie sheet until the rest of the steps are done (about 10 mins).
- In a small bowl, mix the spices and water to create the spice mixture. Set aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok or saucepan. Add ginger, garlic, chilli and onions and cook until translucent. Add tomato paste and a tbsp water. Lower heat and roast for 2 mins. Add spice mixture. Cover and cook 2-3 mins. (Add a tbsp of water if it’s too dry but lowering heat and covering should take care of that.)
- Remove eggplant from the oven. Let rest for 10 seconds before adding to the wok. Sprinkle salt and toss gently to coat in the tomato mixture. Cover and cook on low heat for 10 mins. Stir gently and sparingly if you don’t want to end up with a mushy dish. (Even if you do, don’t panic; it’ll be equally delish.)
At the end of 10 mins, I usually uncover my curries and give it a final toss on high heat to get that slightly burnt, smoky taste. If you’re not a fan of burnt food, simply uncover and switch off heat. Garnish with minced cilantro and serve.
I serve this dish hot and fresh with roti or rice. If there are leftovers, this is yummy on toast, wrapped in a tortilla or topped over brown rice. Danny, if you ever happen to read this, know that every time I cook with eggplant, I will think of you. 🙂