Smoky and Tangy Eggplant


“Begun” in Bengali, “baingain” in Hindi, “brinjal” in Indian English, “aubergine” in British English, “eggplant” in American English: whatever the name, I don’t eat it. I’ve had an aversion since early childhood to vegetables with too many seeds. I’ve since managed to overcome it for some (bhindi/ladyfinger/okra, for example: here’s a recipe) but not for the devil’s tumour. It looks repulsive before it’s cooked and even more repulsive once it’s been cooked. People tell me it tastes good and I am willing to believe it, but I still can’t bring myself to eat it. The missus, however, loves it and she particularly loves Indian preparations of it. And so I’ve begun to cook it for her. It only took 14 years of marriage for me to begin doing it. Truly, I am the husband of the year. 

Now, you might be wondering how, if I absolutely don’t eat eggplant, I know I’m cooking it right. No, I don’t taste it at all while cooking, or when it’s ready. I cook by smell and theory and, most importantly, with faith in my mother’s methods (this recipe is a riff on one of her aproaches to the foul vegetable). The missus says it comes out really well. I am willing to believe her. If you are too then this recipe may be of use to you. It’s dead easy.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb or so of begun/baingan/brinjal/aubergine/eggplant, charred, peeled and roughly chunked.
  • Half of a large red onion, chopped.
  • 1 large tomato, chopped.
  • 1/2 tblspn grated ginger.
  • 1/2 tblspn grated garlic.
  • The following ground together: 1/4-1 tspn red chilli powder, 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder, 1/2 tspn coriander seed, 3/4 tspn cumin seed.
  • 1-2 tblspns balsamic vinegar (or any other vinegar you have at hand).
  • 1 pinch sugar (preferably brown)
  • Salt.
  • 1/2 cup water.
  • Some chopped dhania/cilantro for garnish.
  • Oil (preferably mustard oil but use what you have).

Preparation

  1. Char the eggplant thoroughly over the burner of a gas stove (if you don’t have a gas stove, maybe don’t make this; or maybe buy a blowtorch or light a charcoal grill or something). Char till the skin is nicely blackened. Set it aside to cool, then peel and cut into cubes. Don’t be a perfectionist and try to get every last bit of blackened peel off: you want some char in there.
  2. While the eggplant is cooling heat the oil and bung in the onions. Saute over medium heat till they’ve begun to brown around the edges.
  3. Now add the grated ginger and garlic and saute for another couple of minutes.
  4. Add the powdered spices and salt and saute for another minute or so.
  5. Add the tomato, vinegar and sugar and cook down completely.
  6. Add the peeled and chopped eggplant and saute for a few minutes, mixing everything up nicely.
  7. Add the water, stir to mix and cook down over low heat till the water is all gone again.
  8. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve to someone willing to eat it.

Notes

  1. I made it in this instance with the long, thin Asian eggplant, but it can be made just as easily with the regular globe eggplant, or even with the smaller, oval eggplant (though it might be a bit fussier charring them). Asian eggplant is less repulsive as it’s not quite as seedy.
  2. If you’re using the smaller, oval eggplants and have difficulty charring them, leave that step out. Instead, cut the stem end off, and make deep x’s in the top. Plop them in at the point in the recipe when the eggplant goes in and as they deflate, stuff some of the onion-tomato sludge into the cuts and continue till cooked. If it doesn’t come out well, then you really should have charred them, shouldn’t you?
  3. The ingredient amounts are flexible, especially for the chilli powder (you want a bit of heat, but how much is up to you) and the vinegar (depending on how tangy you want it).
  4. My mother uses regular white vinegar; I threw balsamic in because it was close to hand and the results were good.
  5. You can use far less tomato but don’t use more.
  6. If you have tamarind at hand you can use it in place of the tomato (and skip the vinegar too in that case). Use about a tblspn’s worth of block tamarind pulp, soaked and made into a thick paste (with the hulls and seeds removed).

Looks disgusting, doesn’t it?

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