Friday, September 27, 2013

North Indian Eggplant with Onions

North Indian Eggplant with Onions
North Indian Eggplant with Onions, served over rice
Don't judge this recipe by its looks. As with a book, what really matters is what's inside: The sumptuously buttery, velvety eggplant and meltingly tender onions, the seductively mysterious aroma that evokes a distant land, the exotic yet alluring flavors that dance on your tongue with an enticing tang and vibrant spiciness....

I wish I could take credit for this recipe, but it is not my own creation. The original is found on p. 25 of Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking. Based on my taste preferences and what I had on hand, I modified the ingredients slightly and adjusted the amounts so as to make 2 servings. Because both Greg and I enjoy spicy foods, my version definitely has a spicy kick, more so than her original recipe. If you are used to eating authentic Indian food or other ethnic cuisines known for their peppery heat, you'd probably consider my version of North Indian Eggplant with Onions to be no hotter than a "medium" -- but if your version of hot & spicy food ventures no hotter than a few splashes of Texas Pete or Tabasco sauce, you'll probably consider this dish to be solidly hot but nevertheless edible.  If you fall into that latter category, it's probably a good idea to use only a pinch or two of cayenne pepper when making this recipe, because you can always add more (but you can't subtract) when you taste for balance before serving.

Flickr photo by Robert.BlueSky
Ghee is a clarified butter sold at Indian and Pakistani markets as well as at Whole Foods and other similar specialty or natural food stores. You can also order ghee online through one of our trusted partners when you click here. Ghee has a wonderfully nutty flavor, deep yellow color and very high smoke point because the fat solids are removed during clarification. It's used extensively in Indian cooking and I also use it like regular butter, even on toast etc. If you're vegan or cannot find ghee, any kind of mild oil will work (I don't recommend olive oil because of its distinctive flavor).

Amchoor is a grayish powdered spice made from tart, unripe mangoes. It's found in the same sorts of markets and stores that sell ghee. The cookbook recommends substituting an equal amount of lemon juice (fresh-squeezed) if you cannot find amchoor.

Salting the eggplant draws out its liquid and keeps it from absorbing excess fat as it cooks. Otherwise the eggplant will thirstily sponge up all the ghee shortly after being added to the pot, along with any more you add (it's really quite remarkable how much fat raw eggplant can absorb as it cooks unless it's salted and squeezed prior to cooking). Don't worry, much of the salt is squeezed out along with the liquid and you will not end up with a salty dish merely by salting the eggplant as described.

amchoor powder
Flickr photo by tiny banquet committee
1 eggplant, approx. 1 lb
1 to 2 tsp salt
2 Tbs ghee (or a mild oil like vegetable or canola)
1/2 tsp whole fennel seeds
1/4 plus a pinch whole fenugreek seeds
1 medium onion
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp and 1/4 tsp amchoor powder
1/8 tsp (or to taste) ground Indian chili powder OR cayenne pepper
1 cup water
Salt to taste

Cut stem top off eggplant, peel and cut into 1" cubes. Place in a colander, sprinkle with salt while tossing gently to cover all sides with salt. Place colander in sink or over a bowl and let sit for 1 hour. In the meantime, trim and peel the onion, then chop into small pieces and set aside. This is also when I gather together all my spices and measuring spoons so that everything is on hand when needed (mise en place, if you will). When the eggplant has sat for an hour, gently squeeze out as much liquid as possible and blot with paper towels to remove salt & liquid, then set eggplant aside.

Ready to serve
Heat the ghee in a deep, large, heavy frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the fennel & fenugreek seeds -- they'll sizzle a bit if the ghee is hot enough -- and cook until they start getting darker (this should happen in less than 30 seconds). Stir in the onion & eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes to soften the vegetables. Be careful not to scorch the eggplant and reduce the heat a little if necessary.

Add the coriander, cumin, 1/2 tsp amchoor and red pepper, then cook while stirring for 1 minute until the spices are evenly dispersed throughout the vegetables.  Add the water, bring to a simmer, cover & reduce heat. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, and cook until the eggplant is very tender and thoroughly cooked. Taste for balance and add salt to taste if desired (I added just under 1/2 tsp) and the rest of the amchoor if you want a more tangy flavor. Serve hot or cold, or even at room temperature, on its own or with Naan (or other Indian bread) or over cooked Basmati rice.

Zestfully yours,
Carolina Sauce Company

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