This year has been a record year for eggplant at out house. This Spring we put in 4 different varieties and all of them have been putting on quite the show since Summer kicked into gear. Japanese Eggplant, Classic Globes, Thai, and Indian finger eggplants; the garden is bursting. Fortunately, The Indian kitchen is filled with delicious methods of preparing them. One of the most interesting is Char.
There are number of ways of cooking Indian vegetables. "Wet" vegetables, "dry" vegetables, "fried" vegetables, "stuffed" vegetables, but probably the most interesting is the "char" method; the traditional name is Charcharis. This means deliberately letting your vegetables get a delicate burn, or char. This method of cooking comes from the region of Bengal and involves fairly minimal care since after all you're "burning" the stuff. The trick is not to go too far and set off the smoke alarms, or ruin your pots and pans. Actually had my mom ever been interested in Indian cooking she probably could have mastered this technique with one hand tied behind her back, since char was her go-to food preparation method.
The idea behind char cooking is to let the vegetables simmer gently in their sauce undisturbed, and then let them form a crusty skin on the bottom of the pan, that is then scraped up and mixed with the dish before serving, adding a smoky, open fire flavor to the vegetable and the sauce.
This is a great dish to cook when you're busy with other things on the stove as it requires minimum overseeing. Of course you can't neglect it too much unless you'd like to meet the fire person of your dreams.
I started this dish in a clay pot then transferred everything to a Kadhai as I didn't want to risk having a problem with one of my favorite pots since things can really heat up at the end. My recommendation is use a skillet or kadahi to start. So here is a very simple dish, made with a good sized eggplant, a bag of frozen peas, and some simple spices. Now lets get all McGiver on that eggplant.
Eggplant and Peas Char
Here's What You Need:
1 good sized eggplant
2 cups of fresh peas (if you've got them) or One 10z bag of frozen peas defrosted
4 Tbs ghee or butter
1 tsp turmeric
1 and 1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbs crushed coriander seeds
1 and 1/2 tsp for crushed cumin seeds
1 to 3 whole serrano chilies (depending how hot you want to go)
4 stems of fresh cilantro
2 cups of water
Here's What To Do:
Wash your eggplant and cut it into 1 inch cubes.
Place the eggplant cubes in a heavy skillet or kadhai.
If you have fresh peas put them in now. If you are using frozen ones just leave them out for now and let them defrost.
Crush your cumin and coriander seeds in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Cut the 4Tbs of unsalted butter or ghee into small pieces and scatter them across the vegetables.
Add all the other ingredients EXCEPT the cilantro and the frozen peas.
I actually started with one large whole serrano and then added in another a few minutes later.
Then add the 2 cups of water.
Bring all of these ingredients to a boil on a medium heat and let them boil for about 4 minutes.
Turn the heat down to low after that, partially cover the pan with a lid, and let all of this stuff cook for about 30 minutes.
Shake the pan every once in a while to stir things up, and don't forget to check and make sure your water is not all dried up. You want to burn this stuff a bit, but not just yet! If you find the water is gone, add a bit more and you may need to turn the temp down a click.
When nearly all the water has been absorbed, add in the frozen peas.
Keep the heat on low (this is where I switched pans) and let stuff fry until you get a crust of the bottom of the vegetables and they start to burn on the bottom. Turn the heat off under the pan and let things sit for a couple of minutes then take a spatula and take the burned crust and scrape it into the vegetables.
Toss in your cilantro and serve it up!
The spices simmered in a sauce with the vegetables make for great flavor and the charred crust mixed into the whole thing at the end gives it a cookout flavor. This is a great dish for any Indian or American meal and perfect for a BBQ as a side dish.
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