All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012
I started experimenting with Indian food over twenty years ago – when I gave up eating meat. I had more misses than hits & found out a few things the hard way – like finding out the Krishna’s do not use onion or garlic (essential ingredients – in my opinion) after spending $30 on a Krishna cookbook (this one – AVOID it – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lord-Krishnas-Cuisine-Vegetarian-Cooking/dp/0896470202). Krishnas avoid onion & garlic for many surprising reasons – among them that garlic may “lead to lewd indulgences.” (http://kurma.net/essays/e19.html) This – alone – is reason enough to eat garlic all the time. Anyway – I made Indian food every day for weeks on end. I invited people over frequently – to sample my results. Soon – they became reticent and later – exhibited outright defiance – and would only agree to come over & be fed on the condition I did NOT serve Indian food. Not because it was always bad (though it often was) – but more because it just got to be kinda ridiculous. We were all walking around reeking of curry. Sad times.
Thankfully, I tell you those days are long gone. I have broadened my vegetarian menu extensively and it is more likely to be pizza my guests object to having – yes, again – than Indian food. This eggplant dish is always my favorite & my go-to item on any Indian menu. If you hate eggplant – do not be alarmed. This dish transforms eggplant into an unrecognizable mush that is so heavily seasoned – few could identify the primary ingredient without having been told. Likewise – if you are among the unfortunate among us that loathe cilantro – and I know you are out there – the cilantro here, while important, gets lost in the blend of other flavors. If you hate cilantro – it is not your fault. Here is an article outlining why: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/dining/14curious.html. Cilantro haters are in a similar category to those among us that know the agonies of “asparagus pee.” Apparently – we ALL produce the smelly stuff – but only 22% can detect the scent…at least according to this article: http://bodyodd.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/06/29/12463697-psst-asparagus-pee-are-you-in-the-club?lite. I also found this tidbit – which explains it a different way:
Mark Leyner and Dr. Billy Goldberg explained asparagus pee in their book,“Why Do Men Have Nipples?”.
“Asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan. It is also found in onions, garlic, rotten eggs, and in the secretions of skunks,” they wrote. “The signature smell occurs when this substance is broken down in your digestive system. Not all people have the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan, so some of you can eat all the asparagus you want without stinking up the place. One study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that only 46 percent of British people tested produced the odor while 100 percent of French people tested did.”
Anyway – use the damned cilantro. It adds MUCH needed color to this dish & you will not be offended by its taste. At least use a little. OK? Please?
This dish is spicy. Genuinely so. Lessen the quantity of serrano/jalapeno if spice irks you. Add more if you are a spice freak. Also know – I use WAY more of the other spices listed than most any other version of this recipe you will find. This is a powerfully flavored version. Also know – it is an AMAZING dieter’s dish because the only thing in it with any calorie count work mentioning is the 2 tablespoons of olive oil – and this recipe makes an ENORMOUS amount of this stuff. I bet it could feed 6 or 8 folks – what with the rice addition and all. A cup of eggplant has 20 calories. 2 TBS of olive oil have – GREAT CRIPES – I just looked it up!! 2 TBS of olive oil is 240 calories! Jeez. That explains a LOT about my ass & thighs. Ok -still – Let’s call this 6 cups of eggplant & 2 TBS of olive oil – for a total of 360 calories for the ENTIRE RECIPE. And it is delicious!
Again – this will make a LOT of this dish. Be prepared for yummy leftovers.
One final note – broiling the eggplant the day before or way in advance (so they can cool) is very helpful, but not necessary.
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Vegan Punjabi Baingan Bharta – A Spicy Roasted Eggplant Dish from India with Basmati Rice
5 medium eggplant
2 medium onions – diced
3 inch cube of fresh ginger – or 4 TBS jarred, minced ginger (fresh is better)
2 TBS olive oil
1 TBS cumin SEEDS (not ground cumin)
1 large jalapeno – seeded & diced
2 large serrano chiles – seeded & diced
4 garlic cloves – crushed
4 medium tomatoes – diced
2 TBS garam masala (recipe here – if you cannot find it made: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/easy-garam-masala/)
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt
1 bunch fresh cilantro
Extra tomato or red bell pepper (pictured above) – diced very fine for garnish. Garnish is important with this dish because it is really little more than a dark mush. It needs prettifying more than your average bear. Extra cilantro – chopped fine – can also be nice – instead or in addition.
Prick your eggplants all over with a fork. Line a cookie sheet with foil & place the eggplant on it & into the oven. Broil the eggplant about 5 inches from the flame – turning OFTEN – until they are bursting & blackened on all sides. DO NOT FORGET TO PRICK THE EGGPLANTS or they WILL explode inside your oven & that will be one crime scene you will not want to clean up.
They will look like this when they are done. It might take 20-30 minutes – depending on the size of your eggplant & your broiler. You kinda can’t OVER do this – though you can under do it. Err on the side of charring. It adds flavor & makes removing the skin WAY easier!
Let the eggplant cool until they are safe to handle. HOURS of cooling is best – unless you have Grandma hands & you are impervious to scalding hot eggplant juice.
Cut the green cap end off the eggplant & remove all the flesh from the charred skin (sounds gross). The result should look kind of like this (looks gross):
Roughly chop this eggplant up & set it aside.
Heat the olive oil up in a pan. When it is hot – add the cumin seeds. Beware – they will sizzle & pop & some will jump out of the pan at you. Ouch.
Once these are fragrant – about a minute – add the chopped onion & fry until they are translucent & soften. Add the garlic & ginger & serrano/jalapenos.
Saute this for another minute or two.
Add the chopped tomatoes.
Stir this a minute then add the garam masala, ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric & salt.
Add the chopped eggplant. Stir. Chop the cilantro & add it to the mix & blend well. Remove from heat.
Using a food processor or a blender – puree the entire mixture. Return the puree to the pan to keep it warm on very low heat. The pureeing isn’t essential but I think it delivers a more pleasing result and more completely fuses the flavors. If you are unable to puree or choose not to – simply be sure to chop all the ingredients very finely before adding them to the recipe – especially the eggplant. Hunks of soft eggplant can bum some people out.
2 cups basmati rice – rinsed several times in a colander
1 TBS olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
20 green cardamom pods (if you can get them)
Heat the olive oil in a pan. Once hot – add the cumin seeds & the cardamom pods – again being wary of their popping & spitting. I used 20 cardamom pods because mine were a bit old. You might want to use fewer if yours are fresh & really pungent. After a minute – add the rice & stir until it is all covered in oil & the spices are well blended. Add 4 cups of water (or whatever ratio of rice to water your package suggests) & bring to a boil. Use less water for firmer rice. Once boiling – reduce heat to low & simmer, covered, for however long the rice package instructs you. Remove from heat. Fluff with a fork.
Serve the rice on individual plates. Top with the Baingan Bharta & garnish with either finely diced tomato, red bell pepper – or extra cilantro.