Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Stroll in the purple maze: Rediscovering Eggplant

Maze : A puzzle with complex branching passages through which one must find a route.

To put it mildly, I never had a preference for eggplants. Even my husband, a purist, who vivaciously vocalizes on the goodness of all kinds of vegetables, has a dislike for eggplants. According to his observations, it is my lack of experience in cooking this particular vegetable render a bland taste to the dish, albeit, I disagree. Hence after an elaborate search and tinkering of my recipes from my repertoire, I decided to conquer my dislike and fear for this vegetable on the next trip to the supermarket. Before I leave, I thought, I would gather several facts about this veggie.

Eggplant/Aubergine/Brinjal is a member of Solanaceae family. It is closely related to tomato and potatoe (I didn’t know that) and is a short lived perennial plant. It has purple flowers with large pendulous purple fruit. Did you know that in United States, the name eggplant was derived because of its close resemblance to hen’s eggs? Aubergine is a british name, while in south Africa it is called Brinjal. But I find the name “Vazhuthanaga” – a tongue twister in my native language appealing. The eggplant comes in various shapes and varieties. Some are longer and narrower resembling cucumber and is named Chinese eggplant. The raw fruit is bitter in taste but when cooked develops a luscious and complex taste. It is rich in potassium and calcium and is known to help in controlling cholesterol. Now that’s what I am talking about.

With all these information on hand (courtesy wikipedia), I decided to embark on my journey to the purple world. I am not talking about Barney ofcourse! At my nearest supermarket, eggplants are perfectly stacked, waxed and cozy with occasional sprays of water looking natural and healthy, into a corner away from those glossy, vibrant and rich tomatoes. Occasionally, they also get the opportunity to enjoy a close kinship with scary, thorny vegetable – artichoke (The name itself suggests something horror and sends shivers down the spine!). Sometimes, they could be seen chatting up with leafy vegetables also. Probably this layout of vegetables was meant for people who like a challenge. My 10 minute trip to the market involves a sprint in the vegetable section with a quick pick and toss of tomatoes, potatoes, beans and carrots and onions into the cart. From time to time, I linger with leafy vegetables – spinach, collards, chards and lettuces. This is as far as I would go near eggplants. But this time, things have changed. With gentle trepidation in my heart, I grabbed my bag and ventured into the un-chartered territory. Keep the eyes closed, don’t look at the artichokes. To my surprise, I found many kinds of eggplants – small ones, long and lean ones, short ones, green ones and chubby ones. This time, I decided to try small and chubby ones. It would be perfect for my recipes - spaghetti with fried eggplant and Khosu, my entries for JFI-Eggplant. Maybe next time I might take a crack at artichokes. Who am I kidding?

Simplistically yours,

Spaghetti with fried eggplant

I must admit that I revisited my recipes of eggplant after I had a wonderful encounter with a spectacular Italian dish – Eggplant parmiagana. Although I know that anything fried must taste good (except icecream ofcourse!), this particular dish has kicked off a new interest in me for eggplants.

Shopping List
For the sauce:

Half onion nicely chopped
1 can diced tomatoes with garlic and herbs
1 tsp tomatoe paste
Handful of basil leaves
½ lb cooked spaghetti
Parmesan cheese

For the fried eggplants:
2 cups of Italian eggplant diced
Italian seasoned Breadcrumbs
1 egg
Parmesan cheese

What to do:

Salt the eggplants and keep it aside for few minutes. Wash the eggplants and pat it down with paper towels to remove the excess moisture. Whisk together egg with 1 tbsp of water until it is blended. Combine breadcrumbs and parmesan. Dip the eggplant pieces into the egg mixture and then dredge in breadcrumbs. Fry them golden brown in oil.

Place a pan with olive oil over medium high heat until hot. Add diced onions and sauté until tender. Add tomatoe paste and sauté for few minutes. Stir in the diced tomatoes , salt and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer. Finish it off with parmesan cheese and basil leaves.

Add the cooked spaghetti into the sauce. Mix in the fried eggplants. Finish it off with parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Divine!!

Khosu – Smashed eggplants in a spicy tamarind sauce

This is a contribution from my husband, an old recipe from my mother-in-law. An interesting aspect of this dish is that only eggplant is cooked and rest is made by hand. Literally hands!!!!

Shopping list
4 Small Indian Eggplants
5 dry red chillies
6-8 pieces of diced shallots
about ¼ cup of tamarind
2 – 3 cups of water
Coconut oil and curry leaves

What to do:
Cut the eggplants half way through while keeping its stems intact.

Heat a pan with oil till medium hot. Fry red chillis followed by eggplants until they are soft and nicely charred. Now comes the interesting part.

Using hands, mash chillies, salt and tamarind in a bowl. Add the cooled eggplants, stems removed and continue with mashing. Finally add water and mix thoroughly. Salt accordingly. Drizzle coconut oil and finish it off with curry leaves. Enjoy with rice!..


Anonymous said...

Plz put some recipes from a kids point of view..plz..this is ur niece..the sporty one!

Green Chillies said...

sure kiddo!