I may have mentioned my love for eggplant once or twice. It’s in season now, so we’re luxuriating in it, eating it two or three times a week. One of my favorite methods is just to throw it on the grill, whole. The eggplant melts inside while the skin blackens and turns papery. I guess it’s that blackened skin that makes the eggplant flesh turn so lusciously smoky, even when the method is used on a gas grill or in a very hot oven.
Once it’s cooked, the skin peels right off the eggplant. The inside is very soft, so it works great for things like baba ganoush – but not as well, I recently discovered, when you still want the eggplant to have some resistance, as in the Farm Cafe’s Eggplant Burgers. I expected the smokiness to add an irresistible flavor to the burgers, which it did, but instead of behaving like burgers they just squooshed all over the place. (A delicious meal, but messy!)
The silky texture and smoky flavor of those decidedly un-burger-like burgers came to mind recently as I was pondering what to do with the limited selection of produce in my fridge. I had two potatoes and an eggplant – fresh and local, but not an obvious basis for dinner. But what if I made a curry dish with them? The potatoes could provide toothsome chunks to bite into, surrounded by a luscious curried eggplant sauce reminiscent of my favorite Indian dish, baingan bartha.
As lovely as that dish of Indian-spiced eggplant is, it is often too smooth. My mouth begs for something to chew on. I hoped the potatoes would fill that role. I also wanted them to have a flavor that was distinct from the flavor of the eggplant curry, so I opted to saute them with cumin seeds before adding the rest of the ingredients.
To my delight, this approach worked beautifully. The potatoes had a distinct cumin flavor that separated them from the smoky, satiny eggplant in more than texture. It’s important to use waxy potatoes for this dish, not starchy russets, to maintain this textural contrast. Baking potatoes would fall apart in the sauce.
I served the dish with saffron-scented basmati rice and a simple cucumber raita. I’m not giving you a recipe for basmati rice because, to my chagrin, I can never quite get it right. I confess a tendency to be a little smug about rice: My methods for short-grain rice (for Japanese and Korean meals) and jasmine rice (for Chinese and Thai) work almost every time. Every time I start to cook basmati, I am thrilled with the fragrance and wonder why I don’t cook it all the time. Then the cooking time ends and I open the pot to find not the gorgeous grains I get in Indian restaurants, but plump and mushy ones. They taste good, but I’m never happy with them.
When the eggplant is cool enough to work with, peel off the skin. If it’s cooked thoroughly, the skin should pull off easily with your fingers. Cut off the stem end, then roughly chop the eggplant.
Heat the oil, salt, and cumin in a medium to large frying pan until the cumin starts to sizzle. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or so (15 or more if not parcooked), until tender and browning on the edges. Add the garlic, ginger, and half the curry powder (1 or 2 tablespoons, depending how much you think you’ll use total, which will depend on your taste and the heat of the blend) and cook another minute, stirring constantly.
Add the reserved eggplant and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Continue to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. The eggplant should melt into a chunky sauce in this time. Add the peas (still frozen is fine) and simmer 2 minutes more. Taste and add more curry powder and/or salt until it’s seasoned to your taste. If you’d like a creamier dish, turn the heat to very low and stir in the yogurt. Heat gently just until hot enough to serve – do not boil or the yogurt might curdle.
Serve with basmati rice or naan and a simple salad or raita.
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