Oh, the small joys of relaxing lockdown! I drove out to Essex last weekend to visit the fab Lolli of Thaxted Yoga and bought some veg from the pop-up stall in her local pub car park, including an aubergine (US friends, that’s an eggplant to you!). We had a bit of a laugh about aubergine being one of those vegetables that seems like a good idea at the time, then you keep it in the fridge until it’s wrinkled and squishy and finally throw it away!!
Not for me, though. I love the way that aubergine soaks up the flavours of whatever I cook it with, yet keeps its own textural personality; a bit squeaky and definitely squishy.
I cooked it this evening using a recipe largely stolen from one of my favourite cooks; the late, great Yamuna Devi, author of “Lord Krishna’s Cuisine – The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking”. (You can see how much I love it from the state of my copy!)
I had some scotch bonnet peppers in the fridge which I would normally not use when cooking Indian food, but since they were all I had, I used a piece of one and must confess that I rather overdid it. Hence my recommendation to use a little finely chopped green chili instead.
1 medium aubergine chopped into cubes and marinated for an hour or so in a paste made from:
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 11/2 teaspoons garam masala
- a pinch of salt
- about 50 ml water
- 200 g red split lentils
- a chunk of ginger about the size of a small person’s thumb
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons chopped green chilis
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- a small shake of asafetida powder (can do without this if you don’t have it or don’t like it)
For the finishing touches:
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- a squeeze of lemon juice
- a handful of chopped coriander leaf.
What to do:
While the aubergine is soaking up those flavours, begin cooking the lentils. First, place the dry lentils in the bottom of a large saucepan (big enough to take all your ingredients) and roast them on a low heat. Keep them moving and enjoy the smell. Once they have started to brown, rinse them with cold water in a sieve and return them to the pan. Add enough water to cover them – probably about 750 ml. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, place a tight lid on the pan, turn down the heat and cook for about 20 minutes. Keep topping up the water if the lentils have soaked it all up.
While the lentils are boiling, fry the aubergine. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a frying pan, add the cumin seeds and chopped chilis and fry until the cumin seeds begin to turn brown. Add the asafetida powder (if you’re using it) for a minute, and then add the marinated aubergine – it soaks up a lot of oil, so use plenty, and add a bit more if things begin to dry out. Fry the aubergine pieces in the spice mix, moving them around all the time, for about 7 minutes.
Once the lentils have cooked for 25-30 minutes, add the fried aubergine to the saucepan. Rinse out the frying pan with a little hot water and add that to the lentils and aubergine mix so that you don’t lose any of the spicy flavours.
Keep simmering the lentils and aubergine on a low heat for another 20 minutes. Just before it’s ready to serve add the teaspoon of ground coriander, a squeeze of lemon and chopped coriander leaf. (Cilantro to you, US friends!). Taste the stew and add a little more salt at this stage if you think it needs it.
Serve with rice and/or naan bread.