Monday, October 17, 2011

Royal Eggplant

When I think of how to best describe eggplant, a few words come to mind. And they're not terribly flattering. Oil sponge would be first term, then slightly bitter. And, unappetizingly, squeaky. But royal? Hardly. Until I tried this recipe.

Like many Indian recipes with this descriptor, royal eggplant comes from the culinary tradition of India's Mughal empire. These dishes are strongly influenced by Persian and Turkish cooking, scented with warm spices and softened with cream and butter. And this dish is no exception. The eggplants are roasted until they soften to mush, dispelling any squeaky tendencies and scenting them with a lovely smoky undertone. They're cooked up with the usual savory mix of onion, cilantro and tomato, but they're given a sweet note from cinnamon and nutmeg, and a surprising flavor from the fenugreek leaves. And to make things even better, the savory-sweet-smoky mix is rounded out with a rich dose of cream.

I served this up with some rice, yogurt raita, and a sour-salty shot of green tomato pickle (more on that soon). But I've also paired it with other Indian dishes, or scooped it up with a bit of naan. I like it so much that I've tinkered with the recipe, increasing the yield and upping the spice-to-eggplant ratio to create an even more richly-seasoned dish. Because it's just that good. Royally good.

Royal Eggplant

adapted from Neelam Batra's The Indian Vegetarian
serves ~6-8, depending on how many other dishes are involved

3 medium-large eggplants (~2-3 lbs)
3 Tbsp vegetable oil, ghee, or coconut oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp peeled and minced ginger
2 cups finely-chopped onions
2 cups finely-chopped tomatoes
1 cup packed finely-chopped cilantro (leaves and stems), plus a few spoonfuls for garnish
4 jalapeno peppers, split
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup cream
1 tsp salt, or to taste

Pierce the eggplants a few times with a fork or knife, and place on a pan underneath the broiler. Broil, turning a few times, until they're totally collapsed (~30-40 minutes). Let cool, and then peel and mash until smooth. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a pot over a high heat. Add the cumin seeds, and cook until they sizzle (just a few seconds). Add the garlic and ginger, stir, and then add the onions and cook until golden, ~5-7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, and peppers, and cook until the tomatoes release their liquid and it cooks off, ~10 minutes. Add the spices, stir for a minute to toast them, then add the reserved eggplant.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the cream, and cook another 5 minutes to blend the flavors. Adjust salt to taste, and serve sprinkled with additional cilantro for garnish.


  1. How can there be no comments here? Crazy! This looks amazing! I was just saying to a friend how I never make Indian food at home since the few times I've eaten it out it's been so memorable I didn't think I could do it justice. I'm getting some eggplants at the market tomorrow and I'm eating this all myself, to heck with my picky eaters!

  2. Glad to hear the eggplant love. In anecdotal evidence, my friend's five-year-old ate this and loved it (and has since requested it). Hopefully this is a universal reaction.