Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Indian Night - Eggplant Curry and Easy Dal

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.


  1. I love cooking vegan cuisine even though I am not vegan. This looks amazing! Eggplant is one of my favorite veggies. I need to have a Vegan Mofo celebration day as well...great idea!

    Thanks again for the cookbook!! I'm so excited.

  2. Glad I'm not the only one! It's hard to make mashed eggplant look good, but trust me the taste is fantastic. The book should arrive tomorrow or Friday. :)

  3. I often make vegetarian food but never vegan. This looks great and has some of my favorite flavors!

  4. This sounds SO yummy, and beautiful pictures, yet again. I love Indian food because I can always count on there being vegetarian or vegan dishes to choose from when I go out for it. But those wonderful spices adding their aroma to your home kitchen can't be beat! Great post.

  5. Jillian - my favorite vegan recipes are the ones that are already that way, no substitutions here :)

    Koko - thanks for your kind words! I have the exact same reason for appreciating Indian restaurants in addition to the great-tasting food of course.

  6. Yum! I just made carrot and lentil dhal last night - it was delish!

  7. Ohhhhhh delicious! I need to cook more Indian food. I've wanted to try panch phoron but didn't think of making it at home!

  8. Alicia - your dal sounds great. I love the subtle sweetness carrots add :).

    Emd - please do try panch phoron! Such an easy way to get a complex, amazing combination of spices without having to premeasure them all each time.


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