Royal Eggplant with Garlic aka Shahi Baingan Bharta

I have never liked eggplant, and I feel like I *should*. This is partially because when you’re a vegetarian, two things that often get offered as non-meat entrees are mushrooms (mostly grilled portabella mushrooms) and eggplants (often eggplant parmesan). Over the last five years or so, I have worked myself into being fine with most mushrooms. I have always liked mushroom flavor, but I still struggle a little with raw mushroom texture. Cooked, they’re different, but I have to try not to think about them being fungus while I’m eating them. That’s just my own neurosis.

With eggplant, though, it’s always been the flavor of it that’s the problem – it tastes incredibly bitter to me. Recently, Michael and I were in an Indian restaurant here in Fresno, and (having trouble deciding) I asked what their best vegetarian dish was. The waiter answered that he thought their eggplant was the best one. I felt bad ordering something else after that, because though the description of the dish (smoky roasted eggplant puree with tomatoes, onions, spices and butter) sounded great, I had to admit that I didn’t like eggplant. I ordered a Saag Panir that was ginger-heavy instead. But I feel like I need to work a little harder on expanding my horizons, so after rejecting that eggplant dish in the restaurant, I pledged to myself that I would make a dish containing eggplant this week and just try it. I looked through my Indian cookbooks to find a Baingan Bharta recipe that was like the one on that restaurant’s menu, and I came up with this one from Neelam Batra’s The Indian Vegetarian.

It turned out to be quite good. Of course, if you cover anything with onions, garlic, cumin, a big pile of tomatoes and spices and a lot of cream, it improves it quite a bit. We had this with an improvised Aloo Matar, which was built from the same sauce for the Vegetable Jalfrezi recipe I also made this week, and some store-bought naan too. I would be happy to make this again. I will try more eggplant recipes as time goes on now that I’ve made it through this one.

Ingredients:

2 lbs. eggplant
3 T. vegetable oil or clarified butter (I used the oil for health reasons, but the butter would give a better flavor)
1 t. cumin seeds
1 t. minced garlic
1 T. peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 c. finely chopped onion (1 large onion)
2 c. finely chopped fresh tomatoes (use plum tomatoes)
1 c. loosely packed finely chopped cilantro
2 jalapeno peppers, membranes & seeds removed, finely minced
1 t. paprika
1 t. fenugreek seeds
1/2 t. turmeric
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1 t. salt
1/2 c. cream
2 T. chopped cilantro for garnish

Broil or bake the eggplants and cool. To broil, place 6 inches from the element or flame and cook for 10-15 minutes, turning every 4 or 5 minutes. To bake, set on an aluminum-foil lined cookie sheet and bake for 40 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time. Peel off the charred skin and discard. Mash the pulp with a potato masher or in a food processor and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large wok or saucepan over moderately high heat and fry the cumin seeds until they sizzle, 10 seconds. Stir in the garlic and ginger, then add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, and peppers and cook about 10 minutes. Mix in the spices, then add the mashed eggplant pulp. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, add the cream and cook another 5 minutes to blend the flavors. Garnish with the chopped cilantro and serve hot with naan, parathas, or rice.

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