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.

Add in:
 2 finely chopped green onions

1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp of salt.

Add in 1 cup of plain yogurt
Mix it in well.
Now for the magic....or maybe not.
Halve an onion and scoop out the inside.
 Heat 1 Tbs of hot ghee..or melted butter. Pour it into the cup of the onion.
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!

14 comments :

  1. Interesting recipe never heard of this before sound delightful!

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  2. You go girl! Truth tellers UNITE! It looks amazing (I believe you that it always works except when Paula was there....) Do I have incense charcoal? What patchouli wearing woman leaves home without something to smoke? Talking about smoke, we smoked a brisket all day for dinner. Amazing Dr Food from Texas sure knows his smoking.

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  3. Now, this was truly an interesting concept to read about. I had never heard of this technique before.
    Your story makes me think of when we end up raving about a great restaurant we've tried a few times...and then finally when your friends end up taking your suggestion...wouldn't you know it...they changed the chef. Talk about a lack of ignition!
    Great post.
    Flavourful wishes, Claudia

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  4. Well the end was a surprise. i've never heard of that charcoal in butter method. The eggplant and yogurt was enough for me, but making it smoky-tasting takes it over the top.
    LL

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  5. I often make the baigan bhartha but never new about the charcoal smoking . Learnt something new and can't wait to try it out.

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  6. You are amazing! What an awesome way to smoke.

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  7. THIS LOOKS DELICIOUS, I LOVE HOW ROASTED EGGPLANT TASTES.

    HAVE A BLESSED DAY

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  8. That's so interesting! Even without the smoke, the eggplant bharat looks great!

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  9. This technique sounds similar to one my mom uses to whip up a delicious ground meat concoction (dum keema). Needless to say, I'm way too clumsy to play with fire for meat or yogurt. Props to you for your bravery (and honesty) :)

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  10. Interesting process. Thanks for sharing your failure, it's a great way to make friends.

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  11. It is something really different.Thank you for posting the recipe with pictures :)

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