Sunday, May 30, 2010
Smoke Your Yogurt!
Ever since I was a kid, I've been a sucker for flamboyant table gestures. You know what I'm talking about. The Caesar salad made at the table, the flaming Cherries Jubilee, the blazing Baked Alaska, all those guys at Benihana flinging sharp knives around. Drama!
So it was the gesture I was looking for last night. Paula Wolfert was coming to dinner at our house and I decided to go for the drama with an Eggplant Bharat. This is a dish I've made for years. I'd first read about it in an early book by Madhur Jaffrey. It is a form of raita where an eggplant is smoked and charred then peeled. After the eggplant is mashed, yogurt and spices are added, and then the piece de resistance, it's smoked again with live coals right at the table! Very dramatic. I couldn't wait to show Paula.
Turns out she'd never heard of this technique before and was very eager to see it done. Drumroll please!
Well wouldn't you know it, after talking about this and cooking it for many people over the years, my coal wouldn't ignite properly. There I was with Paula, her son and my husband all crowded around my clay pot and fizzle......pfft. No sparks, no smoke. Nada, nothing, zero, zip. I felt like that old Warner Brothers Cartoon featuring Michigan J Frog.
"But, but..I've done this before! Really..it works, and there's smoke and and........"
"Don't worry about it" Paula said. "Things don't work perfectly all the time every time. Blog about it anyway. Be truthful! You know it works, let people know what can go wrong. It's still delicious."
So, in the name of truth, I'll explain how to do this dish, and meanwhile I'll be making it again and experimenting with my coals so that I can show a proper smoky picture, because when this works it really works and people will be righteously impressed.
Here's how to do it.
Roast a whole eggplant over an open gas flame on a stovetop, on a barbecue grill, or if you don't have access to that, in the oven. Place the eggplant on a foil-covered cookie sheet in an oven preheated to 450 degrees. Keep an eye on it, turning it often until it blackens. In the oven it will take about 1 hour, over an open flame a lot faster. The flame method will give the eggplant a nice smoky flavor, the oven less so, but you take what you can get.
Once the eggplant is roasted, let it cool. Peel away the charred skin.
Place the eggplant in a bowl and mash it well.
2 finely chopped green onions
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp of salt.
Add in 1 cup of plain yogurt
Now for the magic....or maybe not.
Halve an onion and scoop out the inside.
Take a small charcoal. I use the sort that's sold in stores that sell incense. Heat the coal unit it sparks and smokes. This can be done over a flame or on a grill. When the coal is smoking hot, drop it into the butter-filled cup of the onion and quickly place the lid on the pot.
Leave it closed for 5 minutes. When you take it off, the buttery smoke will have infused the eggplant yogurt mixture with a delicious campfire fragrance....or not.
As I've said. I've been straight up honest. This dish takes practice to get right, but practice makes perfect and that is what this dish is. Simply perfection!