I have kind of a love/hate relationship with eggplant. As a vegetarian (well, sorry, pescatarian) I feel like I’m supposed to love eggplant, since it so often plays the meat substitute role. It’s not that I don’t like eggplant at all, it’s just that often I find it in dishes where its presence seems to totally disgust me. Usually this is because it’s too mushy when it isn’t supposed to be – if it’s supposed to be mushy, it’s usually fine. Neuroses much?
When I figured out that I DEFINITELY like eggplant curry, I decided that my main beef with eggplant is the skin. The skin is gross! It stays tough while the eggplant gets mushy creating bites of competing textures that, rather than being awesome like lots of other competing textures (see: coconut + mini marshmallows on ice cream; nuts and raisins on oatmeal) is, in fact, grody. Grody to the max. But now that I know this I have the power to eat delicious eggplant all the time, I just have to skin those bad boys! And what better way to start than with Baingan Bharta – the dish that reconciled me with eggplant and that has a pun-inducing name to boot.
I knew just who to turn to for a recipe – Madhur Jaffrey. If you’re not familiar with her, you should be. She’s the queen of awesome food. I think learning how to cook Indian food at home is one of the best things that has happened to me in the last couple years. Indian food seems so daunting, but is actually just so so easy when you know how to combine the spices. Anyway, I don’t actually own any of Madhur’s explicitly Indian cookbooks (though if you feel like getting me a gift…) but I do have this book, and it’s so great. Her recipe for “Smoked Eggplant – Bharta” is super easy and so satisfying. First you roast your eggplants – these ones were baby Italian eggplants, because that was all the store had that day. I’ve made this again with two regular sized eggplants, which was about the right amount. You make several fork piercings in them so that the steam can escape, and you roast them whole in a 450 degree oven. She estimates it will take about an hour – I can’t say exactly how long worked for me, because while mine were in the oven my power was cut and so they sat in a hot but off oven for a bit over an hour, but seemed to cook in there anyway! You know that they’re done when they get all wrinkly and you can feel that they’re very soft on the inside.
After you roast the eggplant, you cut the tops off, peel them by hand, and chop up the inside of the eggplant. The rest of the recipe comes together in just a few minutes – saute some onion and ginger and garlic in a pan, add about a cup of tomatoes (I used canned), reduce for a few minutes, add in your chopped eggplant and some spices – about 1 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, and some salt. Let that simmer together for 10 minutes or so, finish it with some chopped cilantro, and that’s it! Madhur Jaffrey mentions that she often eats it lukewarm as a spread for toast rather than as a main meal, and I tried this with the leftovers and was blown away. In the moment when I was eating my eggplant toast I exclaimed that I would cook up big batches of this all the time to keep in the fridge and have for lunch! This hasn’t actually happened yet.
On this particular evening I also found an online recipe for Saag to have alongside my Baingan Bharta and we tossed some chickpeas into it for some protein. The Saag was good but a little runny – I’m desperate to find mustard greens somewhere to try this again because the last time I was in Montreal we had mustard greens from a Pakistani restaurant that were unbelievably delicious. In good time. For now, I leave you with this – a video of a bunny rabbit that I was babysitting that weekend. She’s eating dandelion greens and radicchio. Is that cute, or what?! Bunny!