Monday, June 15, 2015

Achari Baingan: Spiced Mini Eggplant in Tomato Sauce

The Grand Trunk Road is one of South Asia's oldest and longest roads. For centuries, it's linked the eastern and western regions of the Indian subcontinent, running from Bengal, across north India, into Peshawar in Pakistan up to Afghanistan. Today it's still a major route, the axis of India's heavily populated north. The 'Food of the Grand Trunk Road: Recipes of rural India, from Bengal to the Punjab' cookbook is a fascinating look at the food, culture and traditions that have sprung up along this route, with recipes that reflect the eating traditions of the real India, and presents a beautifully illustrated history of the road since its emergence as India's first route for traders. The book follows Hardeep Singh Kohli's travels along this age-old route, starting in Calcutta, linking with Lucknow, Aligargh and Delhi before curling north into the Punjab region of northwest India, with recipes provided by Anirudh Arora, head chef at Moti Mahal in London, who has devoted his career to researching the long-forgotten recipes of rural India as found along the old Grand Trunk Road. This gorgeous recipe is based on the delicious Achari Baingan recipe from the book.

Food of the Grand Trunk Road: Recipes of rural India, 
from Bengal to the Punjab' cookbook 

Masala spice mix of fennel seeds, ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, dried red chili and salt
pounded with mortar and pestle

Baby eggplant are quartered from the bottom leaving the top intact, and stuffed with the spice mixture

For the sauce, chopped red onions are sautéed in oil for about 15 minutes

After 15 minutes, the onions become very soft and jammy

Two teaspoons of spice mix are added to the onions...

...then cooked for 2 minutes

One large chopped tomato is added to the mixture with some sugar and salt

Covered and cooked for 15 minutes, the tomatoes become almost sauce-like

Julienned ginger and sprigs of cilantro are added to the sauce then cooked uncovered for 2-3 minutes

The sauce can be taken off the heat and set aside until the eggplant are cooked

The spice stuffed eggplant are set in a frying pan over medium heat with some vegetable oil and sautéed for about 20 minutes — 5 minutes per side

The eggplant have been turned over after 5 minutes

After 20 minutes, the eggplant are beautifully soft, squidgy and cooked through 

The cooked eggplant are then placed within the sauce and set on low heat for 30 minutes

Achari Baingan: Spiced Mini Eggplant in Tomato Sauce
Serves 2

6 baby eggplant, washed and dried
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 small piece of ginger, cut into julienne
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6-8 sprigs of fresh cilantro
2 tbsp vegetable oil 

For the masala spice mix:
1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp ground dried red chili
1/4 tsp salt

Using a mortar and pestle, pound the fennel seeds until they become granular then add the other spices, mix to combine and set aside — this process can also be done in a small food processor.

Quarter the eggplant lengthwise making sure that they are not cut all the way through. They should still be attached together from the top. Take a generous amount of the spice mix and rub it in inside each of the eggplant, then set aside while you make the sauce.

In a sauce pan heat up a 2-3 teaspoons of vegetable oil over medium. Add the onions and cook until they become soft and jammy, about 15 minutes. Add 2 to 3 tsp of the spice mix and cook for another minute, then add the tomatoes and mix well. Add the salt and sugar, and cook covered on low for about five minutes or until the tomatoes are cooked through and form a sauce-like consistency. Mix in the ginger and cilantro and cook uncovered for 2-3 minutes. Add 2-3 tablespoons of water if the mixture is too thick, however it should d be a thick sauce. Turn the heat off and set aside.

In a medium frying pan, heat 2 tbsp oil and fry the eggplant on medium low for 20 minutes, until they are soft and cooked through, allowing about 5 minutes per side depending on the size of the aubergine. Once the eggplants are cooked, add them to the sauce so that they're covered nicely and set on low heat for about 30 minutes or until ready to serve, reheating the dish before serving. 

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