A gingery, peanutty, coconutty sauce drizzled over butter-soft eggplants is a side-dish to die for. Or better still, to live for.
People are often baffled by eggplants. Those who have never cooked with this vegetable are not sure what on earth to do with it. Some have tried it but detest it because all they can recall is bitter, chewy, undercooked flesh and a hard skin.
But undercooking eggplant is an unspeakable kitchen crime against this delicious vegetable– so delicious, in fact, that it tops the list of my favorite vegetables (and that is not a small achievement given how much I love all veggies). Take that as a rule of thumb, in fact– never, ever, undercook your eggplant, and you will learn to love this tall, dark, handsome vegetable with all your heart.
Eggplant is a great vegetable to serve meat-eaters and vegetarians because it has that earthy robustness that’s very deeply satisfying. Layer it in lasagnas, roast it on an open fire and mush it up with spices for a wonderful side dish, or coat slices of eggplant in a pakora batter and fry them up. And those are just three of about a bazillion ways to cook up this veggie. One of my favorite ways to use eggplant is to chop it up, sprinkle it with a little rosemary and salt and olive oil, roast it in an oven, and add it to pastas. Heaven.
For the side dish I am sharing today I roast the eggplants in the oven first to make them tender and compliant before adding them to the sauce. It is a technique I often use to ensure my eggplants are thorougly and completely cooked. Traditional Indian cooks would deep-fry the eggplants first, because that would make them meltingly soft, but here’s a big disadvantage with that: as virtuous as eggplants are, they are also spongy little bastards when it comes to oil. They drink it up thirstily and you end up with about a thousand more calories than you bargained for. Roasting helps them soften up too, but you control how much oil goes in.
And now for some eggplant love: My Gingery Eggplants in Coconut Sauce. Enjoy, all!
Gingery Eggplants in Coconut Sauce
1 large onion, cut into thin slices
1 tbsp finely grated ginger
1 tbsp finely grated garlic (you can also just put it through a garlic press)
1 tsp mustard seeds
8 small, round eggplants (make two cross cuts from the top almost all the way to the base, without cutting through the eggplant.) You can also use 1 large eggplant instead, cut into slivers about an inch long (I find the small, round eggplants at the Indian or Asian stores in my neighborhood. They have a thinner skin and firmer flesh. Italian or Japanese eggplants are also fine for this dish)
1/2 cup coconut
4 green cardamom pods
1 1-inch piece of cinnamon
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
1 tsp fenugreek or methi seeds (you can leave these out if you absolutely can’t find them, but they have a really pleasant bitterness that’s amazing in this dish. They are also really good for you.)
1/4 cup peanuts
2 dry red chillies
1 tbsp jaggery (an unrefined Indian sugar. Use regular or brown sugar if you can’t find this)
3 tsp oil
1 tsp turmeric
Place the eggplants in an ovensafe dish large enough so it can hold the eggplants in a single layer. Sprinkle with some salt and half the turmeric. Drizzle 1 tsp of the oil, toss to coat, and place in a 400-degree oven for about 20-25 minutes until the eggplants are soft but not completely cooked.
Heat 1 tsp of oil in a saucepan. Add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, red chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds and toast until they start to get darker. Add the peanuts and toast until the peanuts start to get lightly golden. Remove to a plate.
Add the coconut to the skillet and toast, stirring constantly, just a few seconds until the coconut starts to get lightly brown. Don’t leave the coconut on the stove unattended because it will burn in an instant.
Place the toasted spices and peanuts, coconut, jaggery, and the remaining turmeric in a blender. Add enough water and blend into a very smooth paste.
Heat the last 1 tsp of oil in the saucepan and add the mustard seeds. When they sputter, add the sliced onions. Saute them until they start to brown. Add the garlic and ginger and saute another minute.
Add the ground spices and when the come to a boil, add the eggplants. Add more water if the sauce is too thick.
When the sauce boils, turn down the heat so it just simmers, slap on a lid, and cook about 10-15 minutes or until the eggplant is really tender.
Add salt to taste. Garnish with some fresh coriander.
Serve hot with some chapatis, rotis, or with some dal and rice.
One of the reasons I’ve been slow with the blog of late is that I’ve had a lot on my mind with my cat’s illness. Pubm, my lovely calico cat who many of you already know, was diagnosed in March this year with a poorly differentiated sarcoma that was growing rapidly. We were told that she had at best six months, at worse, two.
The last few months have included several rounds of chemotherapy for Pubm but in June we decided to stop the chemo because the tumor stopped responding to it. Last week her oncologist told us it was time to say goodbye.
It is hard to say goodbye to any animal you love, although it is also usually inevitable, but in Pubm’s case it is almost impossible because I’ve never known a cat so vibrant and curious and, in a single word, perfect. She came to us at the age of six, with her sister Pie, and although we had no intention of adopting a cat (we were at the shelter to pick up a foster dog) the only reason we did was because the shelter volunteer told us Pubm and Pie were going to be put down the next day– two of millions of healthy, young cats who will be put to sleep each year in the United States because there is no room for them at overflowing shelters, and no home that is willing to take them in.
Pubm and Pie came into a home dominated by three dogs, and while Pie has never quite overcome her unease around the larger canines, Pubm slowly but surely managed to put them in their place and find her own. Desi calls her Queenie, because she literally ruled our household with her beauty, charm, and ability to win over just about anyone, cat-lover or not.
We have not yet been able to bring ourselves to make that call to the veterinarian to schedule an appointment, but we know we must at some point, perhaps sooner rather than later.