Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Recipe: Vegan Indian Eggplant with Lentils

I realize that eggplant is a polarizing food: people either love it or hate it. I fall in the first category and could eat it every day in any form. At the risk of offending those of you in the latter category with my very first recipe on this blog, I want to share a new eggplant favorite (and hope those of you eggplant haters will come back for additional recipes that I have up my sleeve).

In the U.S. my standard method of cooking eggplant was slicing it and roasting it in the oven. Now that I am in Nepal, I have shifted towards stove top cooking. Our kitchen actually does have an oven -- a rarity in Nepal -- but I have not yet learned to use it because I think it requires lighting a match and kind of hoping for the best.

This dish was inspired by two classic Indian recipes that I love: roasted eggplant, or Baigan Bharta, and stewed lentils, also known as dal. Since moving to Nepal, where my cooking sensibilities have invariably trended toward vegan South Asian cuisine, I have made each recipe on its own several times. Today I decided to put a new spin on these dishes and tried combining the two into one. The result was delicious. Both dishes share a soft texture and meld perfectly together, and with the lentils adding protein to the eggplant, I had a complete meal in one dish.

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That said, the dish does require two pots, but aside from a little extra dish washing, the meal is quite simple to make. Most importantly, the ingredients below are readily available outside Nepal and India.

INGREDIENTS

Dal (inspired by Jyoti Pathak's Taste of Nepal):
1 cup masoor dal, which are split pink lentils
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Roasted eggplant:
2 medium eggplants
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 medium onions, sliced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper


1. Prepare the dal: heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger, fenugreek, salt, turmeric, cumin, and coriander and cook until fragrant and garlic begins to turn golden, about three minutes. Add dal and 3 1/2 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, uncovered, and stir occasionally so that lentils do not boil over. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the lentils are soft and fully cooked, about 20-30 minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure that lentils do not stick to the bottom of the pot. Remove the pot from heat, stir in lemon juice, and set aside.

2. Roast the eggplant: preheat broiler. Place whole eggplant under broilers until they begin to collapse, with the flesh turning soft and the skin starting to blister, about 30 minutes. Or, if you do not have an oven (which is not a standard kitchen appliance in Nepal), you can roast the eggplants by placing them in a skillet over high heat, covering the pan, and rotating them about every five minutes as the skin blackens and the flesh becomes soft and pliant. Once eggplants are roasted, let them cool before removing the skin (fingers work best here) and roughly chopping the eggplant flesh.

3. Finish the eggplant: heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they begin to pop and brown, about one minute. Add the onions, ginger, and garlic and cook until onions become soft and golden, about eight minutes. Add the tomatoes and incorporate the turmeric, cumin, coriander, salt, and black pepper. Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the roasted, chopped eggplant and cook for an additional 10 minutes, stirring to ensure that the mixture does not burn.

4. Incorporate the dal: add the cooked dal to the skillet and mix well with the eggplant. Cook for an additional five minutes to allow flavors to incorporate. Serve alongside brown rice, if desired. This recipe should serve four to six entree portions.

Below is the recipe in photos.

Assemble the ingredients for the dal.

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After heating the olive oil in the pot, toss in the spices.

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And stir them.

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Add the water and dal.

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And bring the mix to a boil. Then reduce heat, cover the pot, and allow the dal to simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes until the lentils have softened and absorbed the water.

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Add the lemon to the dal.

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And remove the pot from the heat to set aside.

While the dal is cooking, you can begin the eggplant component by first assembling your ingredients.

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Then roast the eggplants until the flesh is soft and the skin is blistered.

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Allow the eggplants to cool before peeling the skin with your fingers. Roughly chop the eggplant into cubes.

To complete the eggplant dish, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add one tablespoon of olive oil. Toss in the cumin seeds. When they begin to pop and brown, add the garlic, ginger, and onions and cook until the onions become soft and golden.

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Add the tomatoes, turmeric, cumin, coriander, salt, and black pepper. Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the roasted, chopped eggplant and cook for an additional 10 minutes, stirring to ensure that the mixture does not burn.

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Finally, gently stir in the reserved dal into the skillet. Mix well and cook for an additional five minutes over low heat.

Serve yourself a heaping plate. This recipe serves four to six entree portions.

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Enjoy!

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