Baingan Bharta (Eggplant Curry)

I asked for good vegetable recipes, and you, my lovely readers, delivered. This gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian recipe comes via my foodie friend LeftyProf.

Vineeta’s (LeftyProf’s sis-in-law’s) Baingan Bharta

Ingredients:

1 lb. Indian eggplant (these are small, bulbous eggplant, smaller than the size of an apple). Alternatively, you might use purple Chinese eggplant, the long, thin variety.
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3-4 medium tomatoes, diced (about the same volume as the onion)
A 3-inch piece of fresh ginger root, finely julienned
6 fresh Indian green chillies, finely chopped
Salt to taste

Method:

1. First, brush the eggplants lightly with oil, or spritz them with cooking spray. Roast each eggplant over a low open flame, turning constantly, until the outer skin is charred and nearly falling off. The smoky flavor of the charred skin should seep into the flesh of the eggplant as it softens. When fully roasted, set them aside, and allow to cool. Extract the pulp of each eggplant, and discard the charred skin.

2. In a pan, heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil, and add the sliced onions. Sauté the onions until they begin to brown, then thrown in the ginger. Continue to sauté until the mixture becomes a mellow golden brown. Then add the green chillies and stir for a minute more.

3. Add the tomatoes and the eggplant, mash the whole thing together with the back of a spoon, cover and simmer. Add salt and cook until done, about 10-15 minutes.

4. Garnish with chopped cilantro and salt to taste.

Serve with any Indian bread—best with chapatis or rotis.

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LeftyProf’s Moong Dal with Tomato and Ginger

This dish was served to Joe and me by our good friend, culinary collaborator and desi political blogger LeftyProf.  It’s South Indian comfort food: warming, filling, simple and healthy. 

 After a week without food (and yes, it really is Crohn’s, with a possible but yet-to-be-confirmed side of celiac disease), I was in need of exactly this dish… there’s a reason they call it comfort food, you know?

 So.  Here’s what you do, and LP, please correct me if I’ve gotten anything wrong.  Your ingredients:

Moong Dal

Three tomatoes, diced

Four inches of ginger, peeled and jullienned as fine and thin as you can get it

One large onion or two small onions finely sliced in half-moons

Four or five small green chillies chopped finely

Boil moong dal, as much as you want to make, in a large pot with plenty of water, for 30-40 minutes. 

Slice one large onion (or two small ones) into half-moons.  Sweet onions are good for this dish.  Brown them ever so slightly in the bottom of a second pan.  (Do not throw the onions into the pot of dal, like Joe did.)  As soon as the onions get a hint of brown on them, throw in the ginger and give it a few minutes in the pan.  Add the tomatoes and green chillies, and cook until the tomatoes start to get soft. 

 Empty the pan of vegetables into the pot of dal and mix.  Salt to taste (you can also do this on the plate).  Serve with rice or roti. 

As our host demonstrated to us, you can also add a kick by serving raw whole green chillies with this.  Pick thin ones, and bite off the very tip, then follow it with a bite of dal.  I couldn’t try it without risking Crohn-ly unpleasantness, but the guys tell me that this method gives you an initial rush of heat from the pepper that’s immediately cut by the dal, so that the heat achieves a pleasant balance over the course of the meal.  Joe liked this so much that I think he’ll be eating green chillies with his spaghetti and meatballs soon.

You’ll notice that I don’t give exact  measurements on this recipe, or on anything I know by heart.  In the words of the chef: ‘We don’t measure, are you fucking kidding me?’   It’s the Indian version of the motto my college friends Nancy and Maribel used to shout across the dorm: ‘Mexicans don’t measure!’ 

Other ethnic groups who do not, I am told, measure: African-Americans, Ghanians, North Carolinians, Texans, Taiwanese, Afghans, and the French.  In fact, I’d wager that anyone who cooks by heart scorns the little metal spoons– I know I do when I’m making my grammy’s dishes.  Grammy measures, but her units of measurement are dabs of dough and pinches of salt.  But so many of the American cooks I know are almost obsessive about measurement– is it a teaspoon of salt, or a half a teaspoon?

I think this is an expression of caution and unfamiliarity.  When I’m following one of Jaffrey’s recipes, lord knows I’m the queen of the little metal spoons, carefully counting out my teaspoons and tablespoons.  But I’ve found, over the course of writing this blog, that as my comfort level increases and I become more confident in the kitchen, I’m more and more content to leave the little metal spoons in their drawer.  It’s about whether you own the dish, or the dish owns you.  I think there’s something to be said for following recipes exactly the first time around, especially if you are unfamiliar with the cuisine from which you’re cooking.  Once you start to get the hang of it, though, you can improvise, edit, and get a feel for what you’re trying to accomplish– and the spoons become irrelevant.  Maybe when I’ve been making Indian food as long as LeftyProf has, I’ll forsake them entirely.

In the meantime, though, I’ll try to relax a little more in the kitchen, and remember that no one has a monopoly on the ‘correct’ recipe– and it’s improvisation and experimentation that evolve into the regional and cultural variations that make food exciting.  After all, who’d want to live in a world where you can’t try both Texan and Carolinian barbecue?

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Prawns, Kerala Style, and Rice with Whole Spices.

This was by far the fastest, easiest recipe I’ve made from the Jaffrey cookbook, and it was one of the most flavorful. This, my friends, is a winner.

We got a pound of small tiger shrimp at the Reading Terminal Market, along with some absolutely bursting ripe tomatoes from Livengood Farms. I can’t believe how juicy and flavorful those tomatoes were.

OK. Chop two tomatoes and put then in the blender with half a cup of dried coconut, three cloves of chopped garlic and just a bit of ginger. I ended up also putting a chopped onion in there, because I neglected to tell Joe not to grab it. Didn’t seem to have any negative effect, though!

Fry a finely chopped onion. When it starts to brown and get soft, add the paste from the blender, three tbsp of tamarind paste (my new favorite ingredient), half a cup of water, ground coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper and salt. Mix, bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes.

Then throw your (peeled, deveined) shrimp into the liquid and bring to a boil again. Keep stirring until they’re cooked. You’re done. Simple.

As for the rice: Our foodie friend Nagesh made this for a party last week. (I hope he won’t mind my giving away his culinary secrets here.) I may have missed an ingredient or two, but it was quite simple: five cloves, five cardamom pods, and a generous pinch of black cumin into the water just before turning on the rice cooker. Lots of flavor, minimum effort.

This was delicious! The shrimp were done perfectly, and the sauce was sweet and coconut-y. I thought the bitter edge of the black cumin was a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the sauce. It was a light meal– we probably should have made some bread as well. Next time– and believe me, there will be several next times for this dish.

Prawn Pullao

This dish is basically Indian jambalaya, and it’s at least as tasty as the Cajun kind. This was one of the more simple, straightforward dishes I’ve made from the Jaffrey book.

Instead of just throwing the spices into a pan for this one, you mix them together in a teacup- a chopped green chili, turmeric, garam masala, chopped fresh coriander, lemon juice, salt and water. Heat some oil and fry the mixture for two or three minutes. (When I read the recipe, I questioned this step– did Madhur just tell me to throw water into hot oil? But it’s actually a pretty thick paste and it behaved just fine.) Next, take your peeled, deveined shrimp and cook them for about four minutes, turning them a bit to get them all coated in the spice paste. Once they’re ready, set aside in a covered dish. Put 9 oz water in the pan and keep it on low heat, mixing and scraping up the spices. It won’t really cook down into anything, but you’re going to use this spice- and shrimp-flavored water to cook the rice.

In a pot, heat some oil and fry sliced onions until they start to turn brown. (This step is where the oil started really popping for me. I got a small burn from a particularly bad pop. Fortunately, I remembered the rule Joe taught me– for oil burns, do NOT put your hand in water! Wipe it off with a dry cloth.)

Once the onions are looking good, add in the rice, followed by 3/4 pint of water, the flavored water from the pan, and a bit of salt. Mix, bring to a boil, and then turn the heat as low as you can, cover, and walk away for 25 minutes. I actually really like it when I get to simmer things for a long period like this– I can clean the kitchen so I don’t have to do it later, make bread or a side dish, or have a drink with my dinner guests.

When you open the pot, the rice should be nice and fluffy and smelling deeeee-licious. Put in your shrimp, fold them into the rice so they’re mixed in, fluff, cover, give it another five minutes. Serve in bowls.

This was really tasty and satisfying. I’d actually like to make this again when we visit our family in Florida– I think they’d love it, and you can get really fantastic fresh Gulf shrimp down there. It had a kick to it, but next time I’ll make it a little bit hotter and serve it with raita (cooling yogurt sauce). Goes very, very well with a summery beer– I had a Flying Fish IPA, Joe had their Extra Pale Ale, and we were both happy.