Forget kale till the weather gets cold again. Summer vegetable stars are eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers. There’s a bunch around and they’re at their peak. Yes, you can use them for rich ratatouille or tangy caponata to conjure up Mediterranean flavors but make time and rook for this Indian favorite called baingan bharta. It’s one of my go-to dishes to offer with an Indian meal, wrap up in wheat tortillas (a shortcut for chapatti flat bread), or spread on toast (add avocado, if you like). It's lively and delicious, not to mention gluten-free and vegan.
Cook the eggplant over live fire to get an extra-good smoky flavor. Then amp things up with ginger, garlic, and spices. Eggplant dishes often require lots of oil and frying but this one doesn’t. The modest amount of fat is used to cook up the aromatics and the eggplant precooked in the initial grilling/roasting/charring. It’s great warm or at room temperature, and ages well, though we rarely have leftovers.
Pick solid feeling eggplant. They should feel relatively heavy for their size, not squishy (a sign of soft, watery flesh). If you’re not growing the eggplants or buying them from local growers, try the eggplants at Trader Joe’s and Costco. They’re my default sources.
Green chiles are less hot than red ones so you can be more generous. If you don’t have Thai chiles, use one (1) serrano.
Smoky Indian Eggplant with Spicy Tomato
Serves: 4 as side dish
- 1 1/4 pounds (565 g total) globe or Italian eggplant (1 or 2)
- 3 tablespoon clarified butter or canola oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
- 1 to 3 green Thai chiles, chopped
- 2 Roma tomatoes, chopped or grated
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
- Discard the eggplant cap but leave the stem attached. If grilling, pierce eggplant 8 to 10 times with a fork.
- Prepare a medium-hot charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill to medium-high (you can hold hand over rack for 3 to 4 seconds). Grill the eggplant, turning often, until charred, about 20 minutes. Or, to oven roast, preheat oven to 450F (230C) Halve eggplant lengthwise and place, cut side down, on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Roast for about 45 minutes, until soft.
- Set the eggplant aside until cool enough to handle, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the skin and chop flesh into large chunks. Mash the flesh with bottom of a cup or glass to break up.
- In a medium skillet, melt the butter or heat the oil over medium-high. Add the cumin seeds and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, 12 to 15 minutes.
- Dump in the garlic, ginger, and chiles. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomato, sugar, garam masala, turmeric, and salt. Cook until tomato begins breaking down, about 4 minutes.
- Add the eggplant and cook, stirring gently, until hot, 2 to 3 minutes; splash in water and cook longer if eggplant didn’t fully cook during roasting. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
- Turn off the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in cilantro. Transfer to a shallow bowl or plate and serve.
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