On some days, I have no desire to cook. Although kitchen is my happy place, I am sometimes drained of creativity there. It happens to all of us, right? Nevertheless, we got to eat. At such times, some vegetables work as wonders. Eggplant is one of them.
Call it aubergine or brinjal or eggplant or think of any variety you may know, Indian, Italian, Japanese — whatever the name and variety — its versatility truly amazes me in every dish I make with it.
I know everyone isn't fond of it though. Like tofu, it's reputation is disputed. For example, the Hindi word baingan for it means "without good qualities", just like tomato was nicknamed "poison apple" in medieval Europe. It was thought aristocrats got sick and died after eating tomatoes when the culprit were pewter plates. Since eggplant belongs to the night shade family of plants which produce alkaloids that can trigger toxic and psychotropic effects, in its initial wild form, it wasn't widely accepted. Centuries of plant domestication and studies have shown its health benefits and dietary usefulness.
I picked up the idea for this dish from my friend R who is a Bengali. The Bengali affinity for nigella seeds or kalo jeere is not a surprise, and their subtle oniony flavour goes really well with begun (eggplant in Bengali). It comes together in a breeze and is so high on flavours. Relying on only three spices, the highlight being nigella seeds (kalonji in Hindi), this eggplant preparation is my answer to the easiest stir fries ever. Whether you top it on your rice and dal or wrap it in a flatbread with some delicious chutney or simply munch on its own or add it to a green salad, there's hardly any way you can go wrong with it.
Eggplant acts almost like a sponge when it comes to any liquid added to it. There's a likelihood of you adding more oil into the dish than needed. Why? Every time the eggplant chunks soak up the oil while being tossed in the pan, you'd be urged to add some more. Don't! Rather, reduce the heat and keep stirring the veggie once in a while or cover it and cook for sometime to get an extra char. The smokiness is an added layer of lovely flavour you cannot not love.
5-6 small eggplants or 1 medium eggplant, cut into big chunky cubes
1 tbsp mustard oil (or any other oil of your choice)
1 tsp nigella seeds, heaped
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt, or to taste
In a pan or wok, heat oil on medium heat. If you're using mustard oil, smoke it. Once the oil is smoking hot, add the nigella seeds.
Add the eggplants and stir for about a minute. Leave the eggplants to sizzle in the heat for another minute.
Add red chili powder, turmeric and salt. Stir to combine.
Cover and cook on low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. Open occasionally and give the pan or wok a good shake and stir the ingredients.
Turn off the heat once the eggplants are tender but still hold their shape.