Have you heard this month is the 3rd annual Vegan Month of Food, more commonly referred to as Vegan Mofo? For all of October, a whole buncha bloggers (most vegan but some not) have pledged to write to their heart's content about vegan food and related topics. If you're interested, you'll find additional details and a list of participants here. While I'm not participating this year (or a vegan), I love the creativity exhibited by vegan chefs. And there's no doubt in my mind that vegan food can be every bit as exciting and satisfying as any other.
Indian cuisine illustrates this point beautifully, so I dubbed last Sunday "Vegan Indian Night" in honor of Vegan Mofo. Craving one of my favorite restaurant dishes -- a mashed roasted eggplant curry -- I immediately turned to Manjula for guidance. This sweet Indian lady is known for her fail-proof vegetarian recipes and step-by-step videos to go with each one. The result? My eggplant curry held all the complex flavors of the restaurant version without the inch of oil to weigh them down.
I know pita bread ain't Indian, but humor me and pretend it's naan, k?
Rounding out this meal was a simple dal which gets a major boost from my secret weapon spice mix: panch phoran (more info and links in this post). Just one lovely whiff of these spices as they crackle and infuse the oil, and you'll swear you've been transported from your kitchen to some exotic locale. And that's just what a great meal can be: a mini-vacation right in your own home.
Baingan Bharta (Roasted Eggplant Curry) [Printable Recipes]
Adapted from Manjula's Kitchen
Serves 2 to 4
1 large eggplant
2 medium or 1 large tomato
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper
1/4 inch piece of ginger, minced
2 tablespoons oil
Pinch of asafetida (optional)
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Prick the eggplant all over with a fork or the tip of a knife. Cook the whole eggplant either in the microwave (8 to 10 minutes until tender) or in the oven or even toaster oven (425 degrees F for about 45 minutes, rotating once or twice). Let it cool, peel off the skin, chop the eggplant in approximately 3/4" cubes and set aside.
Blend the tomatoes, ginger, and jalapeno in a blender or food processor (I heart my immersion blender for things like this!).
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a frying pan on medium high and stir fry the bell pepper for about a minute. Add the remaining oil to the pan. Once this oil is hot, add the asafetida and cumin seed. Once you hear the seeds crackle, add the tomato mixture, coriander powder, turmeric, red chili powder, and salt. Let this cook for a few minutes until tomato puree starts visibly separating from the oil.
Add the cooked eggplant pieces and let it cook on medium heat. Continue to stir and mash the eggplant as it cooks for about 8 to 10 minutes total. Lastly, add the cilantro and garam masala and gently mix it in. Serve hot with rice or bread.
Easy Panch Phoron Dal
Serves 3 to 4
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 to 3 teaspoons panch phoron
2 dried red chilies
1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup onions, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup toor (tuvar) dal, rinsed and drained
(You could substitute red lentils or even split yellow peas)
5 cups water plus more if needed
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a medium to large saucepan over medium heat. When hot, put in the dry chilies and panch phoron. Let them cook until the spices begin to pop. Now add in the garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Cook the mixture for 5 to 10 minutes or until it begins to break down and separate from the oil.
Add the cleaned lentils and water to the saucepan and bring everything to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 30 minutes or longer, adding more water if necessary. Use a spoon or masher to break down the lentils. (You can make the dal as chunky or smooth as you want). Season with salt to taste, adding a little at a time. Serve hot with rice or bread.