I've known people (ahem, mostly men) who simply will not allow a vegetable on their plate, or at least any vegetable that isn't a potato or corn. I once had a dinner party in LA and was warned by one of the guests that another guest, his friend, had these sorts of dining habits. So, there I was trying to fix a balanced meal with no greens, no salads, no yellow vegetables. It was like painting a picture and only being allowed to use white paint. Never again.
There are a lot of people who simply freak out if there's not a piece of meat or fish on their plate. According to them, it's not really a meal if it's just plants. It just doesn't feel right. Maybe this is related to that high faluntin' term that food writers use, "mouth feel" or maybe just that they feel they're getting ripped off with out the "good stuff" on their plate, but there it is.
There used to be an amazing Chinese Buddhist vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles in the 1990's located in Brentwood, just a couple of clicks away from my house in Santa Monica. They seemed to specialize in tough customers, people who thought they couldn't get through any meal without meat. Boy, did they succeed. They cooked a style of food that was traditionally cooked for the Chinese Emperors during religious fasting periods when no meat was consumed. If you're a cook in ancient China, you don't want to piss off the Emperor, especially if he's in a cranky "where's the beef?" mood. These guys had to be good, and they were! The interesting thing about the dishes they served at this place (the name escapes me but perhaps some LA person out there can remember) was not only they way they tasted, but the way they felt while eating them. Not to get all technical but to the untrained tooth it felt like one was actually chewing meat or fish.
Which brings me to this particular Indian eggplant dish. It has the same thing going for it. The eggplant is soft but not slippery, and has a chewy texture similar to meat. It seemed a perfect dish to fix for a Meatless Monday meal. Also, since big organic eggplants were $1.99 at the market, why the heck not?
Here's What You Need:
1 eggplant cut into small cubes
2 dried red chilies
1/2 cup of grated coconut (fresh if you can get it)
6 large chopped shallots
1 Tbs of urad dal
1 tsp of mustard seeds
5 curry leaves, or 1 large bay leaf
2 seeded chopped serrano chilies
2 Tbs of coconut or vegetable oil
1/4 tsp of cumin seeds
2 tsps salt
Here's What To Do:
Cut the eggplant into cubes then rinse the cubes in water and dry them on a paper towel. You will need 2 and 1/2 cups of eggplant pieces.
Put the coconut, turmeric, chilies, cumin seeds,and shallots in a food processor or grinder.
Add in 3 Tbs of water and pule a couple of times. The mixture should be coarsely ground.
Heat the oil in a skillet or kadhai and when it's hot add in the mustard seeds.
When the mustard seeds start to pop, toss in the dried red chilies, urad dal, and curry leaves.
When the urad dal starts to darken a bit, add in the ground coconut mixture and 2 tsp of salt.
Turn the heat to medium so the coconut doesn't burn.
Saute it lightly until all the water in absorbed.
Add in the eggplant pieces.
Mix everything together well so the eggplant is coated with the coconut spice mixture, and pop a lid on the pan.
Cook this on a low medium heat for about 5 minutes. Stir it half way through cooking to make sure it's not sticking.
Take the lid off the pan and cook for another 5 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated.
Check it for seasoning and serve it up.
Serve it along with rice and a chapatti for a simple meal. This dish can also go along with a lot of other things either Western or Indian if you want to get fancy with it. It's fast cooking and the eggplant has a soft chewy texture with crunchy bits of dal scattered through the dish. I am a total sucker for eggplant so this is right up my alley, plus it takes about 30 minutes or less from raw eggplant to table. Gotta love that.
Coming up next a fish dish with mango, tasty treats from my friend Bibi in Nepal, and that dang dehydrator gets more interesting by the day. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori