It’s been a while, or How I got my Cooking Groove back. (Hopefully.)
It’s been a long time since I posted about food, hasn’t it? (In fact, it’s been since JULY 2013, just before we moved. And that was a salad, so it only barely counts.)*
There are reasons for my relative non-foodness of the last two years. In no particular order, these include but are not limited to:
- Moving into a house that takes up a lot of my creative energy (repairs, decorating, etc.)
- Gardening instead of cooking anything interesting (i.e. weeding for 6+ hours and then being to hungry and tired to do anything but pick up tacos for dinner)
- The availability and quality and price of the aforementioned tacos
- Oh, and starting a new job that has the potential to be all-consuming (two years in it’s still keeping me very, very, very busy)
- General malaise and inertia (once you stop cooking frequently/trying new things, it’s HARD to start up again)
With this and everything else I haven’t mentioned, it’s felt a little like I lost my mojo. But the last couple weeks have been better. I’m hoping that I can sustain this cooking streak once the new semester starts. I know I’ve mocked them in the past, but might it be time to make MEAL PLANS? Ugh.
What’s inspiring me these days is a bounty of gorgeous produce (both my own and the amazing offerings at our local farmer’s market) and our new little town’s total lack of Indian food. So I’ve semi-regularly been turning to a favorite cookbook – Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries – to make my own Indian feasts. It’s scratching the itch, for sure, but is an entirely different matter than the way we used to eat Indian – namely the way we now eat tacos.
Things to know about this book: It’s fantastic and the introductory pages about ingredients and techniques are invaluable. However, be warned: if you’re a fan of Indian food without an Indian restaurant around, it may feel like this book throws down the gauntlet. It taunts me from the kitchen saying, “go on, you know you want to make ALL SIX HUNDRED AND SIXTY OF MY DELICIOUS, DELICIOUS CURRIES.” And honestly, I really want to. I’ve even thought of taking a left turn with the blog and just cooking my way through the book. Like instead of Julie and Julia, Darby and Raghavan? I’ll attempt to resist.
Tonight I made two fantastic (if I say so myself) curries – one carrot focused and one eggplant focused. Other necessary background for this blog post. As anyone who lived in the Boston area while I did knows, the late, great, much-mourned Tamarind Bay in Harvard Square used to make what I called “THAT EGGPLANT THING.” I *think* it was called Baignan Bhartha and I’m pretty sure the description on the menu included cashews and spices. All I know is it was a DIVINE dining experience. When I heard Tamarind Bay had closed just before we went back to Boston for a visit, I was crushed.
ANYWAY, that epic ideal is what I’ve been chasing. Let’s be clear. My Eggplant Thing tonight was not the same as THE Eggplant Thing, but it was damned close. Nearly as good, if not exactly similar.
Raghavan Iyer’s Grilled Eggplant with Peas and Butter (with tweaks)
Baingan Mutter Makhani
- 2 1/2 pounds eggplant (for me, that equaled 5 small ones)
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 1 t kosher salt**
- 1/2 t ground turmeric
- 6 T butter
- 1 large red onion, halved and sliced very thin
- 1/4 c slivered almonds
- 1/4 c golden raisins
- 1 T garlic paste (homemade and frozen)
- 1 T ginger paste (ditto)
- 3 fresh green serrano chiles (stem removed and halved lengthwise)
- 2 T tomato paste (I might use less in the future)
- 1/2 c half and half
- Preheat your broiler on high. Arrange the whole eggplant(s) on a cookie sheet and savagely stab them with a fork in a few places. Broil until evenly blackened and blistery. This took about a half hour for me, turning the eggplants every 5-8 minutes.
- Remove the eggplants and put in a covered bowl to cool and release some juices. When they’re cool enough to handle, remove the stems and skins, throwing the flesh back into the bowl with the juices they released. Then mash them up. Iyer recommends a potato masher or hands. I used a fork and was happy with the resulting texture.
- Stir the peas, salt and turmeric into the eggplant
- Throw 2 T of butter into a large pan on medium heat and cook the onion, almonds, raisins, garlic, chiles, and ginger until caramelized and dark brown. Iyer’s technique for this is genius and I quote it here: “Stir, cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is caramel-brown with a deep purple hue, 15-20 minutes. (The steam will rise, gather under the lid, and drip back into the skillet, providing enough moisture to prevent the onion slices from blackening but not enough to step the onion, making for a perfect balance to create that honey-rich flavor.) A NOTE: If you use garlic and ginger paste, like I did, it will be much more likely to burn. Just stir a little more frequently and deglaze aggressively in the next step.
- Add 1/2 c water to the pan and scrape the pan with a wooden spatula to deglaze. Dump all of this into a blender or food processor. Add the tomato paste. Blend it up until it’s basically smooth and brownish-red. Be sure you scrape down the sides at least once, so it’s all uniformly blended.
- In a clean pan (or the same one, washed and dried), heat another 2 T of butter over medium. Cook the mashed eggplant/pea mixture uncovered until the moisture is mostly absorbed/evaporated. You’ll want to stir relatively frequently, but don’t be afraid to spread it out and let it sit for a few minutes in between. This will take 10-15 minutes. At some point you’ll see a marked change in texture and (I thought, anyway) in quantity.
- Add the beautiful brown-red onion and tomato paste and stir it in thoroughly. Add the half and half and stir to combine. Simmer for a few minutes to marry the flavors, then add MORE BUTTER. I made a well in the middle of the pan and melted the butter directly on the surface of the pan to speed things along a bit.
- Serve with or without rice or naan. Or just stand over the stove and shovel it into your mouth. That would work too.
*By the way, just even looking back at that post made me all misty-eyed, missing those wonderful girls.
**I find that all the recipes in Iyer’s book are tuned SLIGHTLY too salty and too spicy for my taste. I always dial back the chile and use around half the recommended salt during cooking, then adjust at the end. This recipe originally wanted 1 1/2 t salt. I added just shy of 1 t and a pinch or two at the end.