I have always loved logic problems. You know–the kind where a man in a blue coat on a bus is sitting two seats away from a woman with red hair who is diagonally across from another woman using an iPhone and one seat away from a man with a green scarf reading the paper. Eventually, given more clues, you’d have to say where everyone was sitting, what color hair they had, what they were wearing, and what they were doing.
Perhaps that is why I also greatly enjoy certain culinary challenges. For example, tonight we had friends over for dinner and had a lovely time with them. But having lived in Berkeley, we learned early on to ask if our guests had any dietary preferences or restrictions. This time around, several of our guests could not eat dairy, gluten, or meat (two friends are each avoiding one of those items, the other cannot have two of them–but no one friend is avoiding all three). Five people at the table tonight ate anything and everything. No one was vegan.
So, what to serve? In cases such as this, I find that Indian food is perfect. There are myriad vegetarian and non-dairy options, and rice does not contain gluten. So I decided to use this opportunity to experiment by making several dishes I haven’t tried before. This eggplant dish is one of them, and one of the reasons I chose it is that it can be served at room temperature. Anything that can be made ahead of time, I like. This recipe, which family members deemed a keeper, is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking.
Spicy Indian Eggplant with Tomatoes
1 tsp. ground ginger
6 large cloves garlic, minced
1/8 c. water
1 3/4 lb. baby eggplant
about 1.5 c. canola or vegetable oil
1 tsp. whole fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 (15-oz.) can petite diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/8 tsp. cayenne (or chili flakes)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into halves, then cut each half lengthwise into four strips; cut the strips in half crosswise.
2. Heat 1/2 c. of the oil in a deep frying pan over medium-high heat; when hot, add one layer of eggplant and cook until the eggplant is golden-brown, turning pieces over as they cook.
3. Remove eggplant and drain on a layer of paper towels.
4. Repeat until all eggplant slices have been cooked, adding additional oil to the pan each time as needed.
5. Once all the eggplant has been cooked, keep about 3 tbsp. of the oil in the pan, and discard the rest.
6. Add the fennel and cumin seeds to the hot oil in the pan. Stir for a few seconds, then add the tomato, ginger-garlic mixture, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, salt, and sugar
7. Stir and cook for 5-6 minutes, breaking up the tomato pieces with the back of a slotted spoon. Continue to cook until the mixture gets thick and paste-like.
8. Return the eggplant to the pan and gently mix in; add the lemon juice. Cook on medium-low for about 10 minutes, adding some of the reserved tomato liquid if the eggplant looks too dry.
9. Check the seasonings and adjust as needed (you may like to add more salt, or a pinch more sugar, or a bit more lemon juice).
10. Serve warm or at room temperature.