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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Aloo Baingan (Indian) (vegan)

A delicate and spicy combination of potato (aloo) and eggplant - aubergine - (baingan). Typically it's served as a main vegetarian course, but can also be a lovely side dish. The two vegetables are slowly roasted until they're soft (but not fried in the Western sense) and imbibed with all the spices used in the beginning with the Chaunk technique. 
The Chaunk method requires the slow frying of spices in a little oil (or ghee - clarified butter) before starting to actually cook the main ingredients of the dish, to ensure the cooking fat is imbued with spices and that these condiments release their full flavor under heat before sticking to the food itself. It is very important to follow the specific steps in preparing a Chaunk, because the order in which the spices are fried is not arbitrary if you want to release the full flavor. That is why you should make sure you have them all prepared before heating the oil.
I have experimented with three different versions of the Aloo Baingan (here, here and here) and I believe I've come up with the perfect one. Not too spiced up to the point where you can't feel the taste of the actual food (or your tongue for that matter), but spiced enough to feel strongly Indian and curried. Fried enough so the veggies are not raw but golden and delicious, but also not too long, so the eggplant retains its creaminess and the overall flavor. The Chaunk combined with tomato paste added before the potato and eggplant coats the latter, so they become shrouded in a spicy film that slows the frying and allows the dish to come to flavor perfection. All in all, this will require a bit of time but the result will be greatly worth your while. Enjoy.

Ingredients (serves 2):
  • 1 large eggplant (300 g)
  • 300 g potatoes
  • 100 ml tomato paste
  • a little oil (we used olive) - about 2 tablespoons
  • some salt
  • 1 tablespoon Garam masala mixture
  • 1 teaspoon Caraway (Cumin) seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cilantro (Coriander) leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon Coriander (ground seeds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Curcuma
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds (or pickled mustard like we used)

First, prepare the potatoes by peeling them and the eggplant by washing and cutting off the ends. Don't peel the eggplant. Start slicing the potatoes:

Cut them into little cubes, then do the same with the eggplant (leave it last because it oxidizes faster than the taters):

Peel the garlic. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the Cumin seeds:

Stir for a minute until they get brown and fragrant. Add the chopped garlic cloves.

After 2-3 minutes, add the tomato paste and stir. 

Leave for a minute or so, while you prepare the remaining spices:

First add the curcuma and leave half a minute. Then, the Garam masala and stir a minute, then the cumin powder and stir half a minute. Last, add the coriander, curry and cilantro (coriander) leaves. If you're using normal mustard seeds, this is the time to add them. If you're using pickled mustard like us, wait till the end. Mix everything well:

Add both the potato and eggplant cubes and mix:

Let it cook on medium intensity for another 40 minutes or so. Stir every five minutes, and if the mixture seems to stick or release much vapors or shows signs of smoke, add 100 ml water at a time and keep stirring until it evaporates. 

Taste once in a while so you can tell when the potatoes are no longer raw (the spices will make it hard to tell just by the color). When it's done it should be creamy and spicy and golden:

Arrange on plates and serve warm. It's ready, dig in!

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